Transport

Government has no idea how many unsafe cars on the road

NZTA cannot confirm when motorists will know whether their vehicles had been given WoFs by poor vehicle certifiers. 

The Agency said yesterday that its regulatory system had failed a motorist who died after his seat belt malfunctioned just a month after it had been certified as safe during a WoF check.

Dargaville Diesel Specialists, who issued the WoF, admitted it had done so without properly inspecting the vehicle, particularly the seatbelts. 

The company has been suspended from issuing any more vehicle certifications, and NZTA has written to all vehicle owners who hold outstanding WoFs issued by the firm telling them to have their vehicles rechecked.

The case is being held up as an example of the regulatory failure that saw NZTA reprimanded by Transport Minister Phil Twyford for failing to enforce regulations.

In October it was revealed there are 850 outstanding compliance files relating to companies like Dargaville Diesel Specialists or firms that operate other transport services, like bus companies. 

There could be as many as 150,000 vehicles taking to the roads this summer with a meaningless warrant of fitness. 

These files could relate to potentially thousands of vehicles currently driving on the road which may be unsafe. NZTA CEO Fergus Gammie told Newsroom there were 1956 vehicles with warrants issued by Dargaville Diesel Specialists. 

The math around the situation is grim.

Of the 850 open compliance files, 159 are high priority “red files”. If even half of those files have certified as many vehicles as Dargaville Diesel — not a tall ask, if the company is based in a large urban centre — there could be as many as 150,000 vehicles taking to the roads this summer with a meaningless warrant of fitness. 

Gammie said it was “too early” to get any details about the number of vehicles affected by the oversight. 

Gammie told Newsroom that all 159 red files had been looked through by law firm Meredith Connell, and NZTA would be making a statement on the outcome of the next week.

He would not confirm when action would be taken on all the files. If the files raised concern they would be investigated before being stripped of the right to issue warrants 

“It depends on how much information there is and what’s involved,” Gammie said.

“We can only do this process as quickly as possible which is what we’re doing,” he said.

This means there is a possibility that motorists could embark on their summer holidays in vehicles that may not be safe.  

Years of concerns

The problem is long standing. NZTA confirmed it was aware Dargaville Diesel had “serious regulatory compliance issues” in 2011. 

“There were a number of opportunities to undertake enforcement action, and the most serious infraction took place just weeks prior to the crash when NZTA observed DDS staff issuing warrants without properly inspecting vehicles, including seatbelts,” NZTA said the statement. 

Even after the crash, it took seven months for the company to be suspended.

NZTA has commissioned Kirsty McDonald, a QC, to conduct a full inquiry into the case.

Other areas of NZTA’s regulatory function have also been called into question.

Earlier this month Newsroom revealed companies in the Optimus group, a large importer of used Japanese vehicles, had lied to the agency about its corporate structure. 

This obscured the fact it could import and test cars, a violation of international standards. NZTA initially let the company off with a warning, but last week opened consultation on a series of proposals that could, if implemented, make company structures like Optimus’ impossible.

Optimus Group company Nichibo imports thousands of vehicles every month. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the incident showed NZTA’s regulatory responsibilities had not been upheld.

"The failure by the NZ Transport Agency to uphold its regulatory responsibilities to the standard I expect is completely unacceptable and shows why Meredith Connell was called in by the board to investigate earlier this year,” he said. 

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