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Vehicle Safety Proposals - Q & A's

Feedback is being sought on several proposals aimed at significantly improving the safety of the New Zealand vehicle fleet. Vehicle factors contributed to 280 crashes on our roads last year, 33 of which were fatal - 8.5 percent of the total.

As a member of the National Road Safety Committee, the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) has helped develop a strategy equivalent to halving the fatality rate on New Zealand roads by 2010 (the proposed Road Safety Strategy 2010). Improving the safety of our vehicle fleet plays a key role in the strategy.

While vehicle safety will improve "naturally" as time passes and older vehicles are replaced by newer models designed to higher standards, the proposals being released today seek to speed up this process of "natural" improvement and boost the contribution of vehicle safety to the 2010 strategy.

Eleven proposals are being put forward. The proposals fall into two main categories:

- improving the quality of vehicles entering the New Zealand fleet for the first time;
- improving the safety of vehicles already in the New Zealand fleet.

Some of these proposals will require changes to existing Land Transport Rules as well as changes to rules planned for the future or currently being drafted. These will include:

- Changes to the Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Standards Compliance. This rule provides the legal framework within which vehicles are inspected and certified for compliance with standards and other safety requirements, on entering service in New Zealand and throughout their on-road lives;

- Changes to the Land Transport Rule: Frontal Impact, which sets out standards and safety requirements for frontal-impact occupant protection systems on vehicles;

- Changes to the development of other rules setting down standards and general safety requirements for vehicles, including: Land Transport Rule: Seatbelts and Seatbelt Anchorages; Land Transport Rule: Light Vehicle Brakes; and Land Transport Rule: Tyres and Wheels.

Changes to primary legislation will also be required to enable some proposals to proceed.

Once comments from the public and interested parties have been received (the deadline is 31 August), the LTSA will present the recommendations to the Minister of Transport. The government will then decide which of the proposals should proceed.

Proposal 1 - All passenger cars entering the New Zealand fleet to meet frontal-impact standards

What's the current situation?
The current Frontal Impact Rule requires passenger cars manufactured on or after 1 March 1999 to meet an approved frontal-impact standard in order to be registered in New Zealand. Vehicles manufactured before this date do not have to meet a frontal-impact standard.

What would change?
This proposal would mean that all passenger cars registered in New Zealand after the rule came into force (1 April 2002) would have to meet approved frontal impact standards.

There would be a major impact on the importation of used vehicles. Japanese cars (which make up the vast majority of used-vehicle imports) manufactured before Japan began phasing in frontal-impact standards between 1994 and 1996 would not be able to be registered for use on New Zealand roads.

The proposal would have little effect on the importation of new cars, as most already comply with an approved frontal-impact standard. Also, the proposal would not apply to four-wheel drives or utility vehicles.

There would be provisions in the rule to allow the importation and registration of "classic" vehicles (those over 20 years old).

Why make the change?
Frontal-impact protection systems (including "crumple zones" and advanced seatbelt and airbag systems) are specifically designed to protect vehicle occupants in a head-on crash.

There were 105 fatal head-on crashes in New Zealand last year, resulting in 153 deaths. Head-on crashes caused another 1,064 injuries. Compliance with a frontal-impact standard can determine whether or not vehicle occupants survive head-on crashes or other frontal-impact collisions, or how seriously they are injured in these crashes.

The rate at which newly registered vehicles with frontal-impact protection systems are brought into service in New Zealand, and the rate at which older, less safe, vehicles are scrapped will be critical in achieving the targets proposed in the 2010 strategy.

What are the implications?
Importers would be allowed to bring only relatively modern vehicles that comply with a frontal impact protection standard into the country. This could increase the average price of imported used cars for a period of time. In the short term, higher prices for used cars would mean that some people would hold on to their older vehicles longer. Others however would choose one of the more modern vehicles and gain greater protection.

Proposal 2 - Border inspections for imported used vehicles to be made more stringent

What's the current situation?
The Compliance Rule, which came into force on 1 March 1999, sets out the inspection requirements for vehicles when they first enter the New Zealand fleet and throughout their on-road lives. The Rule established new inspection requirements, including border inspections for used imports.

Information from the border inspections is entered into the "LANDATA" computer system, including the names of importers and vehicle details such as odometer readings and details of any structural or water damage.

If any damage that could affect a vehicle’s safety performance is noticed, it is ‘flagged’ on the computer system. This tells inspectors looking at the vehicle later in the certification process that they need to look closely at the body structure of the vehicle. Flagged vehicles require specialist Repair Certification to verify that they have been safely repaired.

Border inspections are currently carried out on behalf of the LTSA by inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) at the same time that bio-security checks are carried out. The current border inspection is limited by the fact that it takes place at the dockside, where there are storage and time constraints.

What would change?
Under the proposal a secure area for vehicle inspection would be set up away from the docks. Each imported vehicle would be held in this area until it could be thoroughly inspected, its documentation checked and a vehicle identification number issued. The border inspection would be more detailed than at present, in order to identify any damage or other non-compliant aspects of the vehicle with more certainty. Vehicles would only be released to importers after this thorough inspection had taken place.

Vehicles passing the new inspection would be certified automatically. Those requiring repairs could be certified later, as under the present system, but inspectors would only need to check that the specific damage or non-compliant aspects identified at the border inspection had been fixed.

Why make the change?
The proposal would allow for better enforcement of safety requirements, as non-complying aspects of vehicles would be identified before importers inclined to do so had a chance to partially repair or disguise them.

What are the implications?
There could be increased costs and delays in getting some vehicles released to importers. On the other hand, the net costs for importers could be reduced for vehicles in a good, safe condition as all of the regulatory processes could be completed at the border.

Proposal 3 - Water-damaged vehicles to be banned from use on New Zealand roads

What's the current situation?
Currently structurally damaged vehicles can be certified to operate on the road in New Zealand provided they have been repaired properly. In the case of significant structural damage, vehicles are subjected to detailed scrutiny by a specialist Repair Certifier.

Vehicles that have been damaged by water (usually flood-damaged vehicles from Japan) are currently grouped together with other structurally damaged vehicles, which are "flagged" at border inspections.

Repair certifiers are responsible for carrying out inspections to ensure that vehicles have been safely repaired before they are allowed to operate on the road in New Zealand.

What would change?
A change is being proposed to the Compliance Rule to allow the LTSA to refuse to certify and register vehicles that show signs of water damage or other damage that could pose a threat to road safety.

Why make the change?
The proposal would allow water-damaged vehicles to be banned from New Zealand roads. These vehicles are potentially dangerous, and are not wanted on our roads.

While very few vehicles identified as having water damage have been certified for use on the road because of the high cost of repairs, (e.g. replacing much of the vehicle’s electrical equipment), it is currently possible for vehicles to be repaired and certified.

Although a vehicle may be correctly certified on the day it is inspected there are long-term effects from water damage that are extremely difficult to check by inspection. Serious problems could emerge long after the inspection has been carried out including corrosion and the failure of electrical systems.

It is hoped that the proposal to strengthen border inspections would make it much harder for importers of these vehicles to disguise the effects of water-damage.

The proposal would also allow vehicles to be banned in the future if other types of damage were identified as posing a long-term threat to safety.

Proposal 4 - Higher standards for brake parts and tyres when vehicles enter the New Zealand fleet

What's the current situation?
The Compliance Rule allows vehicles to be certified for entry into service on the road if their components and systems – including tyres and brakes – are within the limits set by vehicle safety legislation and/or the operating limits set by the manufacturer.

This means an imported used vehicle can be legally registered even if its tyres or brake pads will need to be replaced only a few weeks after the vehicle goes on the road.

What would change?
When a vehicle is first certified for use in New Zealand, its tyres and brake parts would be required to meet higher standards than those required at Warrant of Fitness (WoF) or Certificate of Fitness (CoF) inspections.

Tyres would have to have a tread depth of at least 3 mm (the minimum for a WoF inspection is 1.5 mm) and brake pads would be required to have at least 50% of the original friction material remaining (no value is currently specified for a WoF inspection).

Why make the change?
Tyres or brakes were cited as a factor in a combined 169 crashes last year, crashes which resulted in 27 deaths and 256 injuries. Most people buying a newly registered vehicle assume it will not need new tyres or brake repairs in its first year on the road. Under the current situation, buyers of newly registered vehicles could be driving with worn out tyres and brakes without realising it. This proposal could help ensure that tyres and brakes on newly registered vehicles remain safe at least until the first WoF or CoF inspection is due.

What are the implications?
Some of the components removed from vehicles before being certified for entry into the New Zealand fleet would still have some useful ‘life’ left in them. Removing these components could be seen as a waste of resources. However, the proposal would reduce the risk of vehicles being operated in a dangerous condition during their first year on the road.

Proposal 5 - All damaged or deployed airbags to be replaced

What's the current situation?
The current Frontal Impact Rule allows some vehicles fitted with airbags when manufactured to return to the road after a crash without having the airbags replaced if the vehicle is not required to meet a frontal impact standard. However, the rule also requires a repair to a vehicle (for instance, when a vehicle has crashed and its airbags have been deployed) to restore the vehicle’s safety systems to within safe tolerance of their original state.

What would change?
The proposal would amend the rule to make it clear that airbags must not be permanently removed from vehicles that were fitted with airbags when manufactured, irrespective of whether the vehicle is being repaired or not.

Why make this change?
Airbags are a vital element of many frontal-impact protection systems. The proposal would ensure that crash-damaged vehicles that are put back on the road continue to provide occupant protection as they were designed to do.

What are the implications?
As airbags become standard equipment in most vehicles, the cost of crash repairs would include the cost of reinstalling airbags, if these had deployed. This could result in a substantial increase in the average cost of carrying out crash repairs, and could make it uneconomic to repair older vehicles. This has to be balanced against the safety benefits of ensuring that vehicles with airbags continue to have them as long as they remain in the fleet.

Proposal 6 - Worn-out seatbelts to be replaced with webbing-clamp seatbelts

What's the current situation?
Currently seatbelts must be replaced if they are worn out, faded or otherwise damaged. Replacement belts can be either new or second-hand, provided they meet approved standards.

What would change?
It is proposed that when ‘retractor’ type belts in the front seats of vehicles need replacing, they must be replaced with approved webbing-clamp type seatbelts where available.

Ordinary retractor seatbelts allow some movement of the occupant after the vehicle has crashed, because the belt’s webbing tightens on the spool of the retractor mechanism. Webbing-clamp seatbelts have a device that “grabs” the webbing of the belt as it leaves the retractor mechanism. This prevents the seatbelt tightening on the spool in the event of a crash and reduces the scope for the occupant to move forward and strike the vehicle’s interior.

This proposal would not apply to vehicles with airbags and other frontal-impact protection systems because of the risks of modifying these complex systems. Vehicles fitted with ‘static’ type belts in the front seats would also be exempt, as the seatbelt anchorages would not be suitable for loads imposed by retractor belts.

Why is this being suggested?
Seatbelt technology has become increasingly sophisticated over the years, and simple retractor belts are no longer the safest option. The benefits of webbing-clamp belts are most significant in higher speed crashes, where most fatalities and serious injuries occur.

What are the implications of this proposal?
There are approximately one million cars in New Zealand that are 6 to 16 years old and have retractor belts that would require replacing with webbing-clamps under this proposal. Enforcement of this proposal would therefore be a major undertaking. Enforcement would need to be done through the WoF regime. The LANDATA computer system would need to alert inspectors to check that particular vehicles had been fitted with webbing-clamp belts.

Upgrading to webbing-clamp seatbelts would involve a slight increase in the cost of replacing seatbelts, depending on the model of vehicle. In many cases the upgrade would simply involve the new belts being bolted into place. The cost increase would be about $30 per belt.

Proposal 7 - Seatbelts that may have been damaged in a crash to be destroyed

What's the current situation?
At present the performance and condition of seatbelts is checked during Warrant of Fitness (WoF) and Certificate of Fitness (CoF) inspections. The certifier fails the vehicle if there is evidence of poor condition, wear or fading of the webbing.

What would change?
This proposal will require that the webbing of seatbelts that have been worn in a crash must be cut so that there is no risk of the belt being re-used after the vehicle is repaired.

Why make the change?
When a seatbelt restrains a person in a crash it is subjected to a great deal of force. This can damage the seatbelt’s webbing and other components, making them ineffective or inoperative. Seatbelt systems are becoming so complex that it isn't possible for WoF and CoF inspections to adequately check the condition of sophisticated components like the retractor mechanism or the explosive material that forms part of a seatbelt pretensioner.

This proposal would reduce the risk of seatbelts that have been weakened in a crash being left in the vehicle or re-used to repair another vehicle.

What are the implications?
Destroying seatbelts in a vehicle that has been involved in crash would be a cost to the owner of the vehicle and/or the insurance company.

There are also questions as to which belts would require cutting, who would be responsible for cutting seatbelts and how severe a crash would have to be before they would be required to be cut.

Proposal 8 - New requirements for the supply and use of replacement parts for repairing vehicles

What's the current situation?
Under current law vehicle repairers are required to use replacement parts that will allow a vehicle to be restored to within a safe tolerance of its state when manufactured, and parts are required to meet approved standards if they are supplied for the purposes of repair.

Second-hand parts salvaged from scrapped vehicles can be used for repairs, but they must be in good condition, fit for the purpose, and enable the repaired vehicle to be returned to within safe tolerance of its original state.

There are problems with the use of salvaged and ‘copy’ parts, particularly for individual components that don't have to meet a standard themselves, but form part of a system in the vehicle that does have to meet a standard.

What would change?
Three new requirements are proposed:

1) Replacement bodyshells and other key structural parts critical to the performance of vehicles in frontal impact collisions must, if second-hand, be salvaged from vehicles that have been registered either in New Zealand or in a country where the relevant vehicle standards are mandatory. New parts must be made by a component manufacturer approved by the LTSA.

2) Replacement airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, supplementary restraint system computers components associated with controlling these systems must, if second-hand, be salvaged from vehicles of the same model that have been registered either in New Zealand or in a country where the relevant vehicle standards are mandatory. The installation of these second-hand replacement parts must be approved by a representative of the vehicle manufacturer or by a specialist certifier appointed by the LTSA. New parts must be made by a component manufacturer approved by the vehicle manufacturer.

3) Replacement brake pads and shoes must be new, and made by a brake parts manufacturer approved by the LTSA.

Why make the changes?
Many of the safety benefits of requiring vehicles to meet standards are lost if repairers use substandard parts in repair, once the vehicle is in service on the road. The proposal concentrates on components that are critical to the performance of a vehicle’s safety systems.

What are the implications?
The proposal would increase safety, but it would also impose additional costs. More enforcement would be required, including sampling and testing components in the market. The system of approving component manufacturers will also need to be administered.
Provided that a competitive market for parts could be maintained, the cost of parts in the market is unlikely to increase unduly.
Proposal 9 - Warrant of Fitness inspections to be yearly until vehicles are five years old, and six-monthly thereafter

What's the current situation?
Under the current WoF regime light vehicles that were new when first registered in New Zealand are subject to annual inspections until they are six years old. After that they are inspected every six months. Used imports are subject to six-monthly inspections regardless of the vehicle’s age.

What would change?
Under this proposal WoF inspections would be required annually for all light vehicles up to the fifth anniversary of their first registration in New Zealand or overseas (whichever is earlier), and at six-monthly intervals thereafter.

Why make the change?
This measure would remove inconsistencies in the current system that treats identical vehicles differently depending on where the vehicle was first registered. It would also reduce the point at which six-monthly WoF inspections of vehicles become mandatory from six years to five years. Since there is evidence that vehicle defects increase as vehicles get older, the proposal would improve the targeting of enforcement efforts to higher risk vehicles.

What are the implications?
This proposal could improve the effectiveness of the WoF system and would be broadly neutral in terms of compliance costs. Implementing the proposals would require changes to the Compliance Rule.

Proposal 10 - Frequency of Certificate of Fitness inspections to vary depending on the operator’s safety performance

What's the current situation?
All commercial vehicles are required to undergo a Certificate of Fitness (CoF) inspection every six months. The LTSA is proposing an "operator safety rating system" which would rate commercial vehicle operators based on their performance, including how safely their vehicles are maintained.

What would change?
In advance of the development of the full operator safety rating system (which would require legislative change) this more limited proposal would allow the frequency of CoF inspections for commercial vehicles to be varied, depending on previous CoF inspection pass-rates.

If the track record was good, the interval between CoFs could be lengthened but those with a poor track record would have the interval shortened.

Why make the change?
This proposal is one element within a proposed new system of operator safety rating, the aim of which is to target enforcement efforts more at higher risk operators and less at low risk operators. This will be a more efficient use of resources and it will also provide incentives for operators to improve their safety performance.

What are the implications?
The operator safety system is being proposed as an ‘in-service’ requirement for all operators after entry into the licensing system. This would require a change in primary legislation. The LTSA is working towards getting Government approval of any changes to operator licensing legislation later this year.

Total compliance costs for the industry would remain the same, but more of the costs would be carried by high risk operators, and less would be borne by operators imposing low risks. Implementing the proposals would require changes to the Compliance Rule.

Proposal 11 - Testing stations to cancel current Certificates of Fitness if serious defects are found on commercial vehicles

What's the current situation?
Vehicles are often inspected for a Certificate of Fitness (CoF) well before the current CoF expires. If the vehicle passes, a new CoF is issued and the remaining portion of the previous CoF is added to the new CoF, up to a maximum of 28 days. If the vehicle fails, the current CoF continues to be valid until its date of expiry. This allows the operator time to have the vehicle repaired and re-inspected for a new CoF to be issued.

What would change?
This proposal would give testing stations the power to cancel a current CoF immediately if a vehicle failed an inspection as a result of a serious defect.

Why make the change?
Some operators are not thorough enough, cutting corners on maintenance in order to save costs. Such operators use the CoF as a maintenance check, carrying out minimal maintenance between CoF inspections. There is also evidence of operators continuing to operate vehicles with serious defects that have failed a CoF. The proposal would enable the CoF of such a vehicle to be cancelled immediately. This would help Police in catching unscrupulous operators who operate dangerous vehicles.

What are the implications?
It is already illegal to operate a dangerous vehicle on the road, irrespective of whether or not it has a current CoF. The proposal would improve compliance with the law by making it easier for Police to identify the vehicles concerned.

The proposal will impose costs on operators of dangerous vehicles, but would produce benefits by reducing the number of such vehicles operating on the road. This would penalise operators who abuse the present system, and make it easier for safe operators to compete. Implementing the proposals would require changes to the Compliance Rule.

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