Road toll a wakeup call

December 13, 2021 7:14 am

Pressure is mounting on truck drivers over the Christmas and New Year periods, warns Chief Executive Nick Leggett.

A month ago, I wrote a blog expressing our concerns about road safety in an environment where people are tired, angry, and have been locked up for months. Covid-19 is definitely taking its toll on the nation’s mental health and the quality of driving.

At that time, on 10 November, the New Zealand road toll stood at 277. Since then, a further 21 people have died on our roads (as at 8 December, the toll is 298). And that’s with Auckland still locked down. The toll to 8 December 2020 was 299.

The highest number of deaths so far this year have been in Auckland – 57, compared with 30 at the same time in 2020. The Waikato – 44 deaths, and Bay or Plenty – 32 deaths, are the next highest tolls, up to 8 December 2021. 

Next week, some changes will occur that should have everyone at the highest level of vigilance when on the road. If you don’t feel up to driving, please don’t drive.

The Auckland road borders lift on 15 December. You can expect there to be a mass exodus, especially if Auckland is to remain in the red traffic light until 17 January. People will flee to the orange parts of the country to escape restrictions. Even if Auckland goes to orange, people will want a change of scene and a sense of freedom.

At the same time, new road borders will go up to stop people going into Northland – on SH1 at Uretiti and SH12 near Maungaturoto. 

Under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, the Government has conferred enforcement officer status to Tai Tokerau Border Control. We understand they must be supervised by a Police Constable to run a road checkpoint, so Police will be deployed to assist with checking the Covid-19 status of people entering Northland. 

Transporting New Zealand’s understanding is that there are no restrictions on freight movement – the same situation as now – and that freight drivers travelling out of Auckland from 15 December to 16 January must be:

  • fully vaccinated; or
  • carry evidence of having taken a Covid-19 test within seven days of their travel (but will not be required to have had the test result before they travel); or
  • carry evidence of a negative Covid-19 test received within 72 hours before crossing the boundary.

We believe rapid antigen testing will be more widely available to accommodate the 72-hour testing. 

This is one of the busiest times of the year for trucking. There are all the Christmas goods to get delivered and the exports and imports to move around New Zealand. 

The global supply chain is under immense pressure, so ships can arrive and need to be cleared very quickly before moving off to their next destination. This week we have seen an unexpected berth at Northport, rather than Ports of Auckland, to offload almost 1,500 containers. That puts a whole lot more trucks on the road.

Northland will present additional challenges over the summer due to the maintenance closure of Auckland rail lines between 29 December and 10 January.

Every stop at the road borders slows down traffic at a time when we need to be moving freight as fast as possible, and are under pressure to do so.

Truck drivers are often the first on the scene of road crashes, and recently, a number of trucks have been involved in crashes themselves. This can cause considerable trauma.

Operators will be well aware of the mounting pressure for their drivers and the Northland road borders certainly won’t help those on that run.

Throughout the country, truck drivers face challenges every day with poor road conditions, unpredictable weather, and in summer, particularly in the time of Covid-19 when people can’t leave the country to go on holiday, a whole lot of recreational drivers on the road.

At Transporting New Zealand, we are doing all we can to ensure there is adequate training for truck drivers so they can be safe on the roads. We are also keeping operators up-to-date on the many rules and regulations Covid-19 presents as we get confirmed notice from Government – unfortunately, that can take some time.

We are aware of the pressure and stress companies are under as demands and costs increase daily. We are working on how we can address the mental health and stress impacts Covid-19 has caused our industry.

I would like to acknowledge the incredible work truck drivers have done throughout this long-running pandemic, navigating some of the strictest rules and restrictions in the world. The next month is going to be tough, and we are here to help where we can.

  • Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand