Insurance is supposed to be the backstop in times of trouble and disaster; the guarantee you won’t lose your shirt.
But what if Government actions, or lack thereof, put your insurance at risk, leaving you with potentially business destroying liability?
That’s the situation some trucking operators are now in as Covid-19 restrictions bite.
Since we went into Level 4 lockdown on 18 August, the Road Transport Forum (RTF) has been asking the Government to address the situation of expiring Certificates of Fitness (CoF) and driver licences which could take essential workers – truck drivers and their trucks – off the road at a time when they are most needed.
We have been given my most hated line from government officials, “it’s complex”. Well explain it to us then, because we are not stupid and we can understand complex things.
We understand that about 1,000 CoFs expire each day, so 16 days on, that’s potentially as high as 16,000. We understand that even in Level 3 areas where there is limited ability to get CoFs renewed, that’s a high volume to process, and it’s banking up by the day.
We understand that in April last year, it wasn’t so complex. On 7 April 2020, Cabinet approved the Land Transport Rule Covid-19 Response (No1) 2020 Order in Council. At the same time the Rule was made the Land Transport (Motor Vehicle Registration and Licensing) (COVID-19—Extension of Duration of Motor Vehicle Licences) Amendment Regulations 2020, were made. This gave a temporary extension of driver licences, endorsements and vehicle certification documents, to help smooth the transition back to compliance.
We understand that paperwork counts. A Government Order is a piece of paper that can be used if there is an insurance dispute. Insurance companies are multi-national, so what happens in New Zealand is of little consequence to them. You have to have the right paperwork – not a wink and a secret handshake.
Being told by the Government that the Police will go easy on truck drivers whose licences have expired and/or whose CoFs have expired means absolutely nothing. They cannot account for the individual police officer on the day. And frankly, they are missing the point. A fine from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is not the same as losing a $500,000 truck in an accident and finding the insurance company says you’re not insured because you don’t have the right paperwork and/or the driver was not licenced to drive.
Through much of this current Covid-19 outbreak response we have wondered why there hasn’t been better planning; why lessons haven’t been learned; and why something, such as this Order, can’t be just pulled off the shelf and updated – why reinvent the wheel?
We should be getting better at this, but each day feels like Groundhog Day. We are told this Order couldn’t be dusted off and re-issued because the Government doesn’t know how long the lockdown is going to be. It was clear from day one it was going to be longer than a week; and it was clear after week one, it was going to be longer than two weeks. How long do they need it to be before they address this issue?
The Government needs to get better at this. Many Kiwis are finding this lockdown particularly hard because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. We are getting locked up tighter, we are shutting out the world, and there seems to be knee-jerk reactions where there should have been solid planning. Nearly two years on we are worse off, not better.
It’s tiring. But what we need right now is some kind of Order from the Government that addresses the liability trucking operators are carrying because of the Government’s lockdowns. The handshake deal went out with the arrival of computers and the Internet – I think I was a small child at the time.
Just a note on testing of truck drivers crossing Level 4 to Level 3 borders – I was as surprised as everyone in the industry to hear from media that Dr Ashley Bloomfield had declared workers crossing those borders needed to be tested every three days. This is totally impractical for our industry and the announcement caused considerable stress. We immediately contacted the Ministry of Transport (MoT) for clarification and they advised: “This was just a personal recommendation from Ashley himself, it’s not a requirement”.
While that clarification offers some reassurance, the fact remains that decision makers are not engaging with business and have no idea how the supply chain works. This action threatened to call the supply chain to a halt. MoT said: “There is no appetite to stop any more economic activity than is absolutely necessary, so it’s important to ensure they can continue to work while managing risk”.
We find it pretty insulting that the Government doesn’t think essential workers are aware of the risk they are taking every day and are managing that risk. We have also questioned the risk matrix used to come up with this latest bright idea.