Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tough new towbar regulations investigated BY LEIGHTON KEITH - Taranaki Daily News

Tough new towbar regulations investigated

BY LEIGHTON KEITH - Taranaki Daily News

Last updated 05:00 11/01/2010

A call for tough safety laws to be set for light duty towbars is being investigated by the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Coroner Tim Scott was critical of the absence of mandatory safety standards at an inquest in New Plymouth into the death of Donovan Shelver.

The 28-year-old was killed in November 2005 when a boat and trailer broke loose and speared into his ute on SH3 near Inglewood.The inquest found the design and workmanship on the towbar, made by A1 Bars 1994 Ltd of Auckland, was substandard.

At the hearing in August, Mr Scott directed the NZTA to investigate setting compulsory safety standards.

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said a detailed response to the coroner's recommendations would be made next month. "While there are current legal requirements for tow bars, which include compliance with general safety requirements, the law does not currently mandate the NZ towbar manufacturing standard for vehicles in private use," he said.

Currently, the standard was only compulsory for passenger service vehicles manufactured after September 1, 1999. The agency was also updating its guide for safe towing and loading for light vehicles to reflect recent rule changes.

Raise bar to rid towing of danger....NO ACTION IN THE UNITED STATES

Raise bar to rid towing of danger

By Mike Rose 2:05 PM Saturday Jul 17, 2010

Loose standards mean some New Zealand trailer boat owners could be using unsafe tow bars.

Most of us give little thought to the quality or suitability of our tow bars.

We, reasonably enough one would think, believe that if we buy from a reputable manufacturer and have it professionally fitted (or fit it ourselves to their specifications) we will have a safe and reliable product.

Think again, says Stephen de Kriek, chief executive of Auckland tow bar manufacturer Best Bars.

After receiving reports of substandard tow bars failing and causing accidents, he decided to do some testing.

He took two tow bars, one made by his company and one by another, and put them through the test rig at his Auckland factory. He also arranged to have the test independently filmed.

"Our test rig simulates typical loads and actions on a vehicle-mounted tow bar hitched to a 2-tonne trailer," he says.

In the test, the company's own tow bar reached 3000kg, or at least 1.5 times the stated rating.

"This is what it should have done under the NZS 5467 test protocol." The other tow bar, which de Kriek says was bought off-the-shelf and fitted following the manufacturer's instructions, began to bend under the strain within a few seconds and failed completely in just 41 seconds.

"It reached no more than 800kg. Well under the 2-tonne rating given by its manufacturer.

"Imagine if that was a 2-tonne boat and trailer breaking away from a car on the open road at 100km/h and careering into a vehicle heading in the opposite direction."

De Kriek says his research shows that as many as 1500 substandard tow bars are being fitted to New Zealand vehicles each year. He believes the Government needs to act to protect both those buying the tow bars and other road users.

"The possibility of thousands of motorists towing their heavy boat, trailer or caravan on public roads, who are totally unaware of the dangers if their tow bar gives way, is frightening. "These are tow bars that are purported to be made to NZS 5467 (the New Zealand Standard waiting to be enacted) but they are made cheaply from thinner metals, poorly designed or fitted incorrectly."

De Kriek insists he is not simply wanting another manufacturer's products off the market.

"I am shocked that these bars failed so easily and am really concerned for myself, my family and other road users. These dangerous, substandard tow bars are a ticking timebomb and I believe urgent action is needed." De Kriek says the real issue is that the NZS 5467 standard was released in 1993 but never enacted by the Government of the day.

"Since then, politicians and officials have ignored calls for the standard to be made into law, claiming that there isn't a major problem and that the statistics on accidents caused by towing are inconclusive.

"However, statistics show that in 2008 there were nine deaths and 39 injuries directly connected to accidents related to towing. I would have thought those figures were justification enough."

De Kriek says another problem is that those issuing Warrants of Fitness don't check the suitability or condition of tow bars during inspections.

"Since we started raising concerns about substandard tow bars we have had people contacting us. In one case, a man checked his tow bar and found that it was cracked in the same place on both sides.

"That tow bar was on a vehicle with a current Warrant of Fitness."

As well as lobbying the Government to enact the NZS 5467 standard, de Kriek has also written to the New Zealand Transport Agency, asking them to view the film footage of the tests and kick-start the process of putting NZS 5467 into legislation.

The company has also provided the test data and footage to the NZ Automobile Association, insurance companies and motor vehicle manufacturers.

By Mike Rose