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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle: Aug 13 2004

Fri, 13 Aug 2004

Let's hear it for truckies. They get such bad press. This week Michael Laws questioned whether they'd have enough brains to be in the All Blacks.

The Greens hate them - they want freight to be transported in a bicycle pannier, a flax kete, or a hemp backpack. That way, there'd be no unemployed. In fact, there'd be very few people - those who couldn't afford the horrendous prices retailers would have to charge for food would starve to death. Still, the Greens don't much like people cluttering up the planet.

Labour and Jim Anderton want freight to be moved by rail. That's why they suck millions of dollars off the road users and spend it on 'feasibility studies' for possible rail links to remote places in Northland. In reality, it's vote buying and a way to keep the Greens semi-happy (trains aren't as pure as bicycles, but at least they're not trucks).

This marks the top of the slippery slope whereby the State - as it did in the past - favours rail transport by making it hard for truckies to compete. Before rail was corporatised the taxpayers poured up to $90 million a year into keeping New Zealand Rail afloat. To force people to use rail it was illegal to transport goods by truck for more than 40 miles. As a child, I remember my father loading up our old farm truck with wool then driving through the night, along the back roads, to the Napier wool stores, avoiding the traffic cops, because by law he should have only driven as far as the Waipukurau railway station.

Today truckies are again being persecuted by the cops. This time it's the Police Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit (CVIU) - special cops in unmarked cars that stop truckies at random and hand out mammoth fines for minor offences.

Of course, it's all in the name of road safety, and no one can argue against that. But the last eight years of the CVIU indicate that trucking firms which successfully defend themselves when prosecuted are victimised the most.

Last Friday I met with some truckies who've been pretty vocal on talkback about the CVIU. They told me stories that made my blood boil. For instance, one driver with a brand new truck was taking fill away from the Britomart site in Auckland. Before 11am he had been stopped three times by the same officers and had his logbook checked.

These checks are only meant to take - at most - ten minutes. Drivers have been held at the side of the road for hours. This eats into their legal driving time. That eats into productivity. That means less profit for the company, fewer people employed, higher cartage costs, more money the poor old consumer has to fork out for goods.

Another driver stopped driving for his legally required break and filled in the logbook accordingly. After the required amount of time spent resting, he started his truck, pulled out into the traffic, got about 500 metres down the road before he was stopped by the CVIU chappies. He'd overlooked filling in his logbook, clocking on that he was commencing driving again, and got slapped with a $2000 fine. For this infringement, a driver can also lose his licence for a month. Given the dire shortage of truck drivers in the country, this means trucking firms must keep the driver on full pay, hire someone else to keep the truck on the road, cope with extra paper work and office time dealing with the prosecution, and try and run the company.

Statistics show that of all road crashes involving trucks, the overwhelming majority are caused by cars. Most truckies are careful drivers. But trucks need respect. Yes, it's scary driving along the motorway beside them, or coming around the corner on a narrow road to be confronted by a big logging truck.

When you're dealing with horses, you treat a stallion with greater caution than you do a gelding. Stallions can kill very quickly and easily. So can trucks if you, as a car driver, behave like an idiot around them. So why don't car drivers think about the difference between their stopping capability and a truck's when they change lanes? If you walked around a corner and a stallion was coming towards you, would you make him get out of the way? Well, you might, but you'd be goneburger.

Truckdriving is an honourable occupation. We need more truckdrivers - they bring us our consumables quickly, cheaply and overnight.

Vive la Truckie.

Yours in Liberty Deborah Coddington

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