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Truck brakes involved in serious crashes are still a problem

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Authorities are wondering what to do about a second batch of truck brakes involved in severe crashes causing death.

NZTA and WorkSafe have known for years that universal joint brakes “tend to fail in certain situations, including when parked on a slope,” as WorkSafe puts it (file image).
Photo: 123RF

In recent days, the New Zealand Transport Agency – Waka Kotahi (NZTA) effectively issued a September ban on hand brakes on Sanwa Seiki trucks implicated in two deaths, after years of only issuing warnings of security.

But the agency hasn’t banned a much more common type of heavy-vehicle handbrake, called a cardan shaft (or driveshaft parking brake), although these failed on a truck in 2017. and a mini-crane in 2018, crushing men to death in both cases.

Serious accidents date back to at least 2012, and safety alerts were issued in 2013, 2018, 2019 and last year.

NZTA and WorkSafe have known for years that universal joint brakes “tend to fail in certain situations, including when parked on a slope,” as WorkSafe puts it.

Weak brakes usually do not show up in the limited tests performed during regular vehicle inspections.

A coroner investigating the death of Andy Loving, 63, who was crushed to death by a reversing effluent truck near Queenstown in 2017, told NZTA to fix the issue by adding additional brake tests to see if the hand brakes were working in reverse.

The agency did not.

But, at the end of last year, safety tests were carried out on trucks equipped with brakes.

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NZTA did not respond to RNZ’s request to release test results and said it would address the issue later today.

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Don’t just rely on the brakes

A 2020 safety alert from NZTA said: “Drivers should not be put in situations where a cardan parking brake is only used to hold a vehicle.”

He said to use chocks under the wheels.

Large nursing home company Ryman is caught in trouble.

Ryman is supporting the NZTA’s brake test study and spent $ 1.1 million on training and a series of other remedial measures after a mini-crane rolled down a ramp, killing its operator, Graeme Rabbits, at one of Ryman’s construction sites in January 2018.

Ryman wanted to alert the entire industry to the risks, WorkSafe said early last month, in a binding commitment he agreed with Ryman instead of suing the company.

Ryman’s research in this country and around the world “has identified gaps in training and counseling that leave open the risk of future accidents,” WorkSafe said.

But these shortcomings were identified by regulators many years ago.

“The parking brake was totally ineffective,” warned an official 2012 truck crash investigation.

And in 2013, NZTA said in a safety alert, “The number of cardan brake injuries by people who accidentally release the hand brakes is increasing.

“If not properly maintained, it becomes ineffective very quickly.”

“ Catastrophic results ”

Four years later, in 2017, after the investigation into Loving’s death, a WorkSafe manager wrote in an email:

“You will both be aware that we have had a few incidents [sic] recently where the cardan brakes failed with catastrophic results.

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“One of the major concerns that emerge from our surveys to date is that the level of knowledge and understanding of this type of brake is very low among owners and operators.”

Four years later, in 2021, in response to the death of Rabbits, there’s more of the same, WorkSafe and NZTA look to Ryman to fund a $ 150,000 nationwide tour.

The roadshow aimed to ensure that operators “in several high-risk sectors, including agriculture, construction, transportation and forestry”, were aware of the risks associated with brakes, according to the executing firm.

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RNZ has contacted Ryman and the rabbit family for comment.

Several industry sources told RNZ that many people are still unaware of the risks.

They said experienced truck drivers would be more likely to know this, compared to newer drivers – those who are most likely to drive trucks under 12 tonnes which typically have this type of handbrake.

‘Don’t try the maximum’

The threat of failure increases if the heavy vehicle is on an uneven surface such as gravel, or if it is loaded unevenly, as happened with the effluent truck in 2017, according to the alerts.

Drivers might not be used to pulling the brake lever as hard as needed with this brake, NZTA warned.

In the 2017 death, the brake would have worked if it had been pulled on just one more tooth, an investigator found.

When a truck or machine requests its Certificate of Fitness or Certificate of Fitness, inspectors either perform a handbrake stall test or test it on a small slope.

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But NZTA said in 2020: “The WOF and COF test is the minimum performance requirement, but does not test the maximum conditions under which a vehicle can operate.”

The 2017 effluent truck had just passed its COF.

It could not be turned on when using its suction, so it was only resting on the handbrake, although it was on a flat surface.

“It would not have been predictable that the brake would fail in reverse when the vehicle underwent a recent COF assessment and operated to the standard that was

required for a COF, ”he says.

Coroner Anna Tutton noted “several situations across the country where a vehicle ‘held’ in a forward direction but failed in reverse.”

WorkSafe’s investigation found that it was possible to get a COF without any reverse handbrake test.

Tutton urged NZTA to try testing the handbrake in reverse; the agency agreed to look into the matter – but also told the court it would be difficult, if not dangerous, to do.

Today, the NZTA is launching a brand new regulatory lead role of Director of Ground Transportation, to which it has appointed its Managing Director of Regulatory Services, Kane Patena.

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Previously, RNZ had asked WorkSafe about Sanwa Seiki brakes.

He replied that “Sanwa Seiki brakes are a type of cardan brake.

“Our 2019 cardan brake safety alert pertains to all cardan brakes, including Sanwa Seiki brakes, although it does not specifically mention them.”

However, Sanwa Seiki brakes are not a type of cardan brake.

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