By Phil Pennington of RNZ
A dodgy truck handbrake involved in at least two deaths and multiple serious crashes has only just been banned, though authorities have known for years it was dangerous.
The ban comes two years after the latest death of a father-of-two road worker, 25, hit by a runaway truck in Ngauranga Gorge.
Another truck crushed a pedestrian into a truck parked in front of it, on a Dunedin hill in 2010.
By 2013 police knew of at least nine crashes in the lower South Island caused by the Sanwa Seiki brakes failing.
Safety alerts went out three times between 2013 and 2019 urging owners to check and service the brakes.
But a ban was initiated only a few days ago.
This forces trucks off the road from September if they don't replace the handbrake.
"We are doing this because of a number of incidents - including two fatalities - involving runaway vehicles when the operator of the vehicle believed the brake had been fully engaged when it hadn't," Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) told owners of about 1000 trucks, mostly Nissans made between 1995 and 2003.
"While we could take immediate action to revoke these vehicles' CoFs [Certificates of Fitness], we consider it reasonable and appropriate to allow vehicle owners a period of time to correct the safety issue."
Road Transport Forum's Nick Leggett said: "I would be interested to hear their explanation as to why it wasn't faster."
The Civil Contractors association said the Transport Agency alerts should have been stronger and the ban come sooner.
"Where there is significant stuff that should be dealt with by a recall, we want to see that happen sooner rather than later," chief executive Peter Silcock said.
"The period of time that's elapsed here certainly seems to me to be longer than what I would expect."
The company that took over from Nissan trucks in 2007, UD Trucks, said it had not heard from NZTA about the ban.
"Nothing, not a thing," general manager John Gerbich said.
"I'm surprised and disappointed."
As for the ban, "it seems a bit extreme" when truckers were at fault for not maintaining the handbrakes properly.
He was aware of the 2010 fatality and inquest into that, but "the problem is we have had no information about the  fatality at all", Gerbich said.
"No one's come to us."
They visited NZTA to ask about it, but "they have not been able to provide any information".
Nor had WorkSafe been in contact, he said; WorkSafe is prosecuting Fulton Hogan over the Ngauranga fatality.
Waka Kotahi put out a statement (see below) in part saying: "We are taking action now as the fleet with these type of brakes is continuing to age, leading to a higher risk of failure."
The Road Transport Forum for truckers in 2013 put out three alerts on its own, warning of "tragedies and severe harm incidents" from the brakes failing.
One of those industry alerts quoted police saying: "There has been yet another crash involving an unintentional park brake release on a Nissan truck fitted with a Sanwa Seiki park brake control.
"This adds to the list of at least eight incidents that have been documented in the lower South Island since the investigation of the 2010 fatal in Dunedin."
The safety alerts stated the handbrake was more prone to fail due to wear and tear as time goes on: When worn it might appear to be engaged when it was not, and - being on the right side of the driver's seat - was susceptible to being knocked out of its groove by a driver getting in or out of the cab.
NZTA put out a safety alert about the handbrakes in 2017 - but no ban.
It issued another alert in May 2019 - but again no ban.
That alert came two months on from the young road worker's death - but did not mention his death.
"Waka Kotahi should have conveyed the fatality that was involved," Leggett said.
They communicated to their own members it was a "critical" matter.
"I feel comfortable that we've communicated that."
The forum's 2019 circular warned in red: "These park brake controls are failing too frequently."
Peter Silcock of Civil Contractors said the 2019 alert "could have been stronger in terms of saying, 'You should actually have it replaced' ... rather than just checking it".
He was not aware of the 2017 NZTA alert.
The 2021 NZTA letter to the industry, not the public, said: "Park brake failures from the above issues have resulted in a number of incidents with some causing deaths and serious injuries.
"The clear safety risk is why Waka Kotahi is taking the action outlined."
Alerts show that in 2013 the coroner told UD Trucks to warn 1500 truck owners; and that the company was working with police and NZTA on what else to do.
Police began telling truck owners to stick a special orange "hazard alert" beside the door or on the dash.
Gerbich of UD trucks said they had worked for years to get owners to maintain the handbrakes better, writing them letters three times.
There were a lot more brake failure runaways than were reported, across all sorts of trucks, he said.
His company learned only on March 19 from a customer about the incoming ban, and was now consulting its lawyer.
"I would have expected NZTA to consult with us before doing something like this."
One distributor of UD trucks told RNZ the problem was not with the handbrake but with drivers not engaging it properly.
Gerbich stated: "This is not a failure of the park brake, but of operators to maintain their park brakes."
Nissan manuals call for servicing every 12 months.
In the Ngauranga death, Fulton Hogan said their thoughts remained with the man's family but as the matter was before the courts, it was not appropriate to comment further.
Police did not prosecute.
The death is before the coroner.
NZTA declined RNZ's request for an interview. Late on Friday afternoon it issued a statement to RNZ:
"The vehicles are not being recalled as Waka Kotahi does not have its own recall powers, but we can revoke Certificates of Fitness from vehicles we are satisfied are not safe and in this instance, we are satisfied the brake valve is not safe.
"While we could take immediate action to revoke these vehicles' CoFs [Certificates of Fitness], we consider it reasonable and appropriate to allow vehicle owners a period of time to correct the safety issue and the letters serve to highlight the safety risk.
"We are aware of other incidents or roadside inspections highlighting issues with these brakes. We have taken the opportunity to review the information we have gathered from these incidents and this has assisted us in leading to the action we've taken.
"We are taking action now as the fleet with these type of brakes is continuing to age, leading to a higher risk of failure as the park brake systems continue to be subject to wear and tear, particularly when the system is on the driver's right-hand side by the door.
"The cause of the Ngauranga Gorge fatality in 2019 is still before the courts so we are unable to comment further."