Two people died when Sanwa Seiki’s brakes failed in 2010 and 2019; three people were run over by two packed trucks and a telehandler with cardan hand brakes – sometimes referred to as transmission hand brakes – in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The documents reveal that this has triggered investigations in each of the past three years by the Transportation Agency.
The first two investigations concerned only a few trucks each: in one, one of the six trucks escaped with a full load; in the other, neither did, but investigators concluded that cardan brakes sometimes needed such force to pull, it would take two hands.
The third investigation, last year following a death in March, was much larger – and more concerning, find high failure rates.
Notes from WorkSafe indicate that the NZTA negotiated with UD Trucks – which had succeeded Nissan – in 2019 to obtain new Sanwa Seiki brake levers in “all affected trucks … by July 2020 (around 1,200 units) “.
That doesn’t happen until September of this year. RNZ asked Waka Kotahi if this had been delayed by the pandemic.
However, John Gerbich of UD Trucks recalled the 2019 meeting differently. He said they agreed with the agency that the best approach was to require trucks to do a brake check by a mechanic before passing a Certificate of Fitness (COF).
Sanwa Seiki’s problem is in hand, but cardan brakes are much more common – in more than 50,000 Japanese-made trucks and trucks up to 23 tonnes – and more difficult to solve.
The 2019 survey said even finding a testing station in the first place could be difficult.
He had to subject the test trucks to a COF check before starting the tests, but encountered “a significant delay … representative of the state of the rest of the country”.
“Due to many factors, including time, inspections of in-service vehicles are necessarily superficial and tools are not required.
“It is not practical to test all vehicles unladen and laden.”
The problem that remains, as WorkSafe told the Department of Transportation in October 2019, is that “it is clearly possible to pass a COF legitimately without having a safe vehicle in all practical, normal operating situations.”
Stretched brake cables are a risk, and agencies have talked about introducing hand-held gauges to detect any play by checking the force needed to pull the handbrake.
Waka Kotahi is still working on putting up warning stickers in truck cabs to remind drivers of the limitations of hand brakes, such as the fact that they can fail with a full load on a hill.
Regarding the use of chocks under the wheels, the agency told WorkSafe in February of this year that “can also send the wrong message [sic] ie “don’t worry about the quality of the parking brake, just throw shims underneath it will be right” “.