Some truck drivers are engaging in unsafe practices such as taking shortcuts and using stimulants, the union for road transport workers says.
First Union (Finance, Industrial, Retail, Stores and Transport) transport and logistics secretary Karl Andersen said some owner drivers were under "immense pressure" to make a living, many were tied into contracts their boss could change at will and demands could not be met without compromising the safety of themselves and other road users.
"This leads to drivers taking shortcuts, running bald tyres, breaking driver regulations and in some cases using stimulants to get through," he said.
"Drivers work very long hours and face significant disruption to their family time. They shouldn't also have to work in an unsafe environment and put themselves and others at risk."
Ministry of Transport national figures show that in 2010, 57 people died and 871 were injured in road crashes that involved trucks. This was 15 per cent of the total road toll, while trucks made up about 6 per cent of the road traffic.
Managing director of Bay HI-AB Transport, Charles Brown, who has been in the trucking business for more than 30 years, said 90 per cent of companies in New Zealand abided by the industry's rigorous standards, but there were a small number of operators that did not have the same diligence or the rates that larger companies had. "If your rates are low that reflects on how you look after your fleet. Think of it like a house. If you only have enough money to pay the rent, food and power you're not going to paint the outside of your house."
Mr Brown said he knew of companies that did put pressure on their drivers to be on call seven days a week.
A spokesperson from Welcome Bay company Addline Transport Ltd said the high standards made it hard for drivers to engage in unsafe driving practices. "People will do silly things and people take risks in all walks of life but this reflects a small minority."
Local truck driver and owner of Triple O Trucking Darran Ormsby said pressure on truck drivers was no more than in any other industry. He said there were deadlines to meet and some did take the odd shortcut.
"But what happens when you take shortcuts is injuries can happen, you don't do the job correctly and you pay the consequences."
Associate Minister of Transport in charge of road safety and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said every truck accident was one accident too many, however, the current standards in place were sufficient and this reflected in the reducing road toll. Since the early 1990s, the number of truck crashes in New Zealand had halved.
Mr Bridges said those who breached time restrictions and employers who forced truckies to work "ridiculous hours" faced a fine of up to $25,000.
Labour Transport safety spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said a minority of truck drivers were flouting the law, however it only took a minority of drivers to cause some "very dangerous situations".
New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan said many truckies worked 70 hours a week and he was not surprised by First Union's comments.