Police are warning trucking companies contracted to transport shipping containers from Northport to Auckland to ensure their vehicles meet safety standards or else they'll be written off the road.
The warning follows about half a dozen truck-and-trailer units being written off after failing the standards expected of the police commercial vehicle safety team at a checkpoint on Uretiti along State Highway 1, south of Whangārei, today.
Some truckies were caught bypassing the police checkpoint by driving along rural roads and their truck-and-trailer units were found to have the most safety issues.
In one case, a driver out of Northport didn't even get to pick up a load because he was outside of his driver hours.
Traffic ran smoothly on SH 1 between Whangārei and Auckland after the first of about 800 trucks carrying 1340 containers started the trek south this morning, despite concerns about the impact of trucks hauling Christmas freight from Northland's port.
Trucks came through sporadically— not at the predicted rate of one every five minutes— and traffic is flowing smoothly over the Brynderwyn Ranges.
Police commercial vehicle safety team manager for Auckland and Northland, Senior Sergeant Mike Flatt, said issues his officers have discovered should be picked up daily when the drivers did their checks.
"Most people that are coming through are behaving themselves but it's just disappointing that companies are sending trucks up knowing that they're potentially not up to warrant of fitness or certificate of fitness standards.
"We have had a couple that have been outside their work hours. We're identifying some pretty major safety issues with some of the trucks which is disappointing, bearing in mind that these trucks are travelling up from Auckland and elsewhere and these faults haven't just occurred overnight," Flatt said.
He said officers have also identified basic maintenance issues like bald tyres and inadequate braking that were a major concern, to a point where the trucks would fail a certificate of fitness.
Police worked very closely with the trucking industry, unions and the like and also with trucking companies themselves, which have been aware of the trips and their potential involvement for a while, he said.
"The thing is, with any truck crash and then heading over the Brynderwyns, the propensity or the ability to have carnage or serious injury or even death is huge so it's something we can't take lightly."
The first rotation of police commercial vehicle safety teams brought from throughout New Zealand finish at Uretiti on Monday morning.
"We're not just stopping trucks here from the port but other trucking companies are shifting dangerous goods and loads are unsecured, they can face massive fines."
Police are also stopping truckies shifting dangerous goods and unsecured loads, who could face large fines.
Amrit Singh of Veer Transport in Auckland couldn't continue past Uretiti after an air-hose leak was detected in his truck carrying a container bound for Auckland International Airport.
A mechanic from Auckland was called to fix the leak, which meant he could only do one instead of two trips to and from Northport.
"The police checks are very thorough and defects that are not usually picked up during routine checks do get picked up. But the police are only doing their job."
He owns four trucks and he said in his years of driving, the police checkpoint at Uretiti was the biggest he has come across.
"Our old trailers normally crack and I am using one on this trip so there's bound to be issues. These are big truck-and-trailer units and although we do random checks, issues are bound to prop up," he said.
Northport says it's had more inquiries from container shipping lines keen to avoid congestion at Auckland's port.
But before it takes them any further, it will be putting under the microscope its handling this week of unloading the biggest container vessel ever to tie up at its wharves.
The full review will include the logistics of transferring 1170 containers to trucks bound for Auckland, a job unfolding at the port today and over the next five or six days, and feedback from NZ Police and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Businesses south of Northport and motorists were not concerned about the container-laden trucks as they did not clog up the state highway.
Zali, from The Busy Bean Cafe on the Brynderwyn Hills lookout area, believes the number of container trucks heading south this morning has been three times the normal number.
She opened at 5am and said it had been her busiest morning so far this week.
"My customers say they got on the road early to beat the trucks. They were all prepared for the craziness."
Ben Floed arrived from Auckland to install a generator at Whangārei Hospital at 4am today and was heading back the same morning.
He said container-laden trucks had not been "too bad" as they drove pretty fast, and passing lanes and police checks all helped.
"I was worried when I left Whangārei but I haven't seen any, except those on the weighbridge. They can't be any worse than the logging trucks."