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NZTA says circumstances surrounding Dargaville crash ‘totally unacceptable’

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NZ Transport Agency Chief Executive Fergus Gammie says the circumstances which saw a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) issued to an unsafe vehicle which was subsequently involved in a fatal crash are totally unacceptable.

65-year-old William Ball was killed when the car in which he was the front seat passenger lost control and crashed into a ditch near Dargaville on 6th January this year. The driver of the vehicle has pleaded guilty to driving related charges, but is yet to be sentenced.

Police investigating the crash found that the front passenger seatbelt in the vehicle was frayed and failed in the crash. Dargaville Diesel Specialists (DDS), who issued a WoF to the vehicle in December 2017 just a month prior to the crash, admitted it had done so without properly inspecting the vehicle, in particular the seatbelts.

“DDS didn’t check the vehicle properly. They failed William Ball.

“However, the NZ Transport Agency’s regulatory regime also failed him and that is unacceptable,” Mr Gammie says.

The NZ Transport Agency was aware DDS had serious regulatory compliance issues on an intermittent basis since 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.

In late August, DDS was suspended from issuing any vehicle certifications. NZTA has also written to all vehicle owners receiving WoFs from DDS to strongly recommend they get their vehicles re-checked, with NZTA meeting the cost of re-inspection.

Mr Gammie also noted that major change is underway within the Transport Agency to take a tougher enforcement approach to regulatory compliance.

In mid-October, the NZ Transport Agency Board together with the Minister of Transport, Hon Phil Twyford announced an extensive review of the Transport Agency compliance files by law firm Meredith Connell was underway and a tougher enforcement regime was being implemented. Meredith Connell is currently leading the regulatory function at the Transport Agency.

“What happened in Dargaville is an example of how our previous high-trust, education-focused regulatory regime has failed New Zealanders. We effectively trusted DDS to voluntarily improve its practices despite it having a significant track record of non-compliance. Furthermore, last December when the lack of seatbelt checks during Warrant of Fitness inspections were uncovered, the Transport Agency didn’t take decisive action or appropriately escalate the issue internally,” Mr Gammie says.

“As a result of Mr Ball’s death, alongside our review of regulatory compliance, the Transport Agency has also engaged Kristy McDonald QC to conduct a full inquiry into this case. Her report – which will be released to the public once complete – will independently establish the facts, identify the specific failings of the Transport Agency’s performance as a regulator and make recommendations on any further steps we should take.

“The Transport Agency’s objective is to ensure the failures that occurred with Dargaville Diesel aren’t repeated,” says Mr Gammie.

The NZ Transport Agency is asking anyone who has concerns about a WoF issued by Dargaville Diesel to please make contact by calling 0800 108 809.

For more information on the regulatory compliance review and warrant of fitness information for customers, visit www.nzta.govt.nz/regulatory-compliance-review

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