I had the great pleasure this week of presenting an award to an old friend, and a former colleague of mine who has done a huge amount for the transport sector.

Don Hutchinson is Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s principal engineer for the technical regulatory team and he’s spent a long career working on making sure our transport rules and regs make sense.

I actually worked with Don when I joined NZTA back in 1996 and I sat next to him on the Safer Roads and Rail team which was when I started to appreciate his giant brain!

Don has always been a transport guy. He joined the Ministry of Transport’s Traffic Engineering Branch back in 1980, which in those days meant you got a free university education but were also bonded to stay there a few years. Luckily, he didn’t mind as he always found traffic engineering a very interesting area. I think he liked it was always hard to predict outcomes, given the general nature of humans to be wildly unpredictable!

With his inquiring mind, and engineer’s brain, Don was interested in how to manage New Zealand’s heavy vehicle fleet to make it as safe, and as productive as possible. That lead to directing the size and mass of the fleet along with vehicle configurations.

He joined the Institute of Road Transport Engineers of New Zealand (IRTENZ) in 1995. For his great service he was made a life member this year and also given the Outstanding Industry Service Award. (I’m a past pres of IRTENZ which was why I had the honour of delivering the award, as Don had been unable to attend the recent conference in person).

But what really made Don a pleasure to work with is that he is in the business of finding solutions and ways to enhance road transport, rather than putting up obstacles.

He was an early adopter of using Performance Based Standards (PBS) to benchmark innovative vehicles against standard vehicles to introduce a range of policies and permit regimes. He also did a huge amount of work on the legislation with the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule and the introduction of Static Roll Threshold legislation to NZ. He was also instrumental in introducing the recent High Productivity Motor Vehicle HPMV scheme.

For 40 years he’s been helping all kinds of groups get useful and practical industry initiatives across the line, earning the respect of all of them.  These have included Transporting NZ, National Road Carriers, Log Transport Safety Council, NZ Truck-Trailer Manufacturers Federation and the Motor Industry Association.

Don’s strength lies in leveraging his large network to make informed decisions that prioritise safety and productivity.

From what I saw at IRTENZ and the Technology Convergence conference in Brisbane potentially there’s lots more ground still to be taken in this space so I’m grateful there are public servants like Don working hard to keep New Zealand moving and Waka Kotahi have a succession plan in place.

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