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Unimog Accident Court Of Inquiry Finalised

17 March 2006

Cromwell Unimog Accident Court Of Inquiry Finalised

A New Zealand Army Court of Inquiry initiated to determine the circumstances surrounding the Unimog accident on SH 6 near Cromwell on 23 February 2005 has been finalised.

At the time of the accident the Unimog was part of a convoy of army vehicles taking part in driver training. The Court found that this training was being carried out correctly according to NZ Army training management plans.

The Court's investigations included the Traffic Crash Report supplied by the New Zealand Police. The Court also examined road and weather conditions concluding the weather was fine, traffic density was light and the road, which had an embankment on one side and a 'armco' barrier on the other, was dry with no loose metal.

The Unimog could not be examined as it remains unrecoverable in the Kawerau River however the Court found no irregularities with the vehicle's maintenance and inspections prior to the accident.

Having considered all available evidence and after a process of logical exclusion the Court concluded that the most likely cause of the accident was driver error.

The Army Driver Training Review that was initiated immediately after the fatal accident was completed in September 2005. The implementation of the recommendations from the review is making steady progress.

AN EXTRACT FROM THE COMMENTS BY THE ASSEMBLING AUTHORITY, COLONEL KEVIN BURNETT, ON THE COURT OF INQUIRY:

"In identifying the immediate cause of the accident, the Court had to adopt a process of logical exclusion. While the Court is unable to definitively identify the immediate cause of the accident, the conclusions that the accident occurred as the result of driver error are supported.

The Court identifies three causal factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of the accident. These are: the age and relative maturity of the students on the course; the inexperience of the students and the condensed nature of the training; and the instructor-student-vehicle ratios for the latter phase of the driver-training course. The Court does not definitively attribute these factors as root causes of the accident, nor is it qualified to do so. However, it is recommended that these issues be drawn to the attention of the board conducting the army-wide driver training review.

The Court of Inquiry highlights areas for potential improvement, particularly with regard to safety and supervision of trainee drivers. Improvements in these areas are required, but must be implemented without degrading the efficacy of the training. Driving is by its nature dangerous and is, arguably, the single most significant day-today risk faced by service members. As such, there are strong imperatives to ensure driver training adequately prepares soldiers for the operational use of vehicles. The Assembling Authority therefore cautions that future driver training activity, whilst ensuring safe training, must remain realistic and challenging and cannot become unnecessarily restrictive as a result of the incident or this inquiry."

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE COURT OF INQUIRY

The Court of Inquiry made a number of recommendations. As a result of the recommendations, which were subsequently subsumed into the army wide Driver Training Review, a number of actions have been taken. Both the recommendations and the actions taken are listed below:

* It is recommended that as part of the Army Driver Training Review, the age and relative maturity of drivers undergoing training be considered.
It is well recognised in New Zealand that age plays a factor in vehicle accidents, with younger drivers being a higher risk group. Army cannot affect the age of its recruit base but it can influence the attitudes young drivers have towards driving Army vehicles. A programme to develop and implement an awareness campaign is currently underway which will specifically target 18 - 24 year olds. The same group will also be targeted for a managed continuation-training programme that is under development. The programme is likely to involve post-licensing driving in controlled environments (designated safe driving areas) and may look at limiting certain driving tasks until sufficient experience and higher competency standards had been attained.

* It is recommended that the Army Driver Training Review consider the entry-level of driving experience necessary to commence Class Two License driver training.
Overall driving hours for the Class One and Two License courses and the military vehicle operator course has increased to 70 hours, up 15 hours from 55 hours. Supervised driver training hours during the Unimog phase of the course have been doubled, up from 20 hours to 40 hours.

* It is recommended that resources utilised for the driver-training regime, specifically the provision of vehicles and ratio of instructors to students, be considered.
Driver/instructor ratios have been amended from 1:6 to 1:2 with ideal of 1:1 if achievable.

* It is recommended that additional vehicles and staff be used for long road drives and cross-country components of the course.

As well as the increase of driver/instructor ratios, and increased driving hours, light support vehicles accompany Unimog training convoys (to carry students during driver rotations) that enhances students ability to gain driving experience and receive one-on-one instruction. Plans are also being developed for the introduction of safe driving areas for off-road continuation driver training.

ENDS

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