Police and the NZTA, according to a former truck driver, are to blame for a pedestrian’s suicide.

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According to an ex-truckie from Mosgiel whose mate parked a truck that rolled away, killing a pedestrian, a handbrake danger should have been addressed prior to the crash.

The fatality in Dunedin in 2010 was followed by further deaths, resulting in the death of a roadworker in Wellington in 2019 when he was crushed by another runaway vehicle.

The handbrake used in both of those incidents, known as a Sanwa Seiki, was only recently officially outlawed.

However, another kind of truck handbrake, known as a cardan shaft brake, has been involved in three deaths since 2017.

Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, is at a loss about what to do after getting a safety test report stating that the way brakes are checked at vehicle testing stations is inefficient and should be modified.

After a large collision involving one of his trucks in 2010, just months before the fatality involving a Sanwa Seiki handbrake, Bruce Mitchell of Mosgiel called for intervention.

“It was parked doing a delivery at the top of Queen Street in Dunedin here,” Mitchell said.

“And the driver got out of it, went in to see the builder, when he came back the truck was gone.

“It had taken off down the hill. It had taken out five cars and a lamp-post.”

No one was hurt as it was off student peak times, he said.

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‘Couldn’t fault it’

The incident came a year or two after the handbrake on the same truck had failed a first time, sending it into a watercourse in Green Island.

After both crashes, the Commercial Vehicle Centre told Mitchell the handbrake was fine.

“They couldn’t fault it.”

Bruce Mitchell ran Mitchell Transport in Mosgiel for 16 years up until 2019.Bruce Mitchell owned and operated Mitchell Transport in Mosgiel for 16 years until 2019. Photographer: Phil Pennington

The handbrake was also cleared after an enquiry by the Police Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit (CVUI – now known as the CVST or Commercial Vehicle Safety Team).

Mitchell, on the other hand, was becoming concerned.

He told the CVIU that he didn’t believe the handbrakes were safe.

As a result, the police ordered his truck to be pulled over, and he promptly replaced the handbrake with a different type, he told RNZ.

But just months later in August 2010 a truck parked in Luss Rd, Dunedin ran away, crushing teacher Stan Turner to death on impact.

The coroner faulted the truck’s Sanwa Seiki handbrake.

UD Trucks, which had taken over Nissan trucks, sent warnings to 1500 truck owners.

‘How many deaths does it take’

Mitchell said his friend who had parked the truck “felt that it was his fault”.

But police “knew there was a problem and didn’t do anything about it”, he said.

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Nine years on, and several Waka Kotahi safety alerts later, a Fulton Hogan roadworker was crushed when the same type of handbrake failed.

“It was avoidable,” Mitchell said.

“I mean, how many deaths does it take before authorities will take any action?

“You’ve got to live with that for your life, that you’ve killed someone, even though it’s not your fault.”

The Sanwa Seiki brakes have been banned, but Mitchell wanted the cardan shaft brakes gone, too.

He urged Waka Kotahi to work on how to retrofit a handbrake that worked properly into the tens of thousands of trucks and construction vehicles that had those brakes.

“If they can’t do the job, if they can’t hold on a hill, they shouldn’t be on the road.”

Police said it was “not appropriate for police to make comment on specific commercial brands”.

“Where police detects a defect in a vehicle, it takes appropriate action – for example, ordering a vehicle off the road until the defect is remedied.

“If police detect a trend or theme in vehicle defects, a referral is made to Waka Kotahi.”

RNZ has approached Waka Kotahi for comment.

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