The Transport Accident Investigation Commission added two new significant items to its Watchlist of most pressing concerns on 27 October 2016. Commissioner Stephen Davies Howard introduced the updated and enlarged Watchlist at a media conference.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is concerned about the number of accidents in New Zealand in which Robinson helicopters have experienced ‘mast bumping’. These accidents have raised concerns about the risks of flying these helicopters in the mountainous terrain and weather conditions that are common in New Zealand.
Commission investigations have highlighted safety improvements that could have been, or should be, made for road vehicles or pedestrians using railway level crossings. Recent inquiries have found ambiguities in who is responsible for the safety of pedestrians crossing rail lines, a particular concern in metropolitan areas with growing patronage, and growing frequency of trains. Other inquiries have shown that changes to rules and standards for road vehicles such as permissible lengths and clearances are incompatible with the conditions at some level crossings such as sight lines and road camber. The potential remains for serious accidents to continue to occur as a result of these problems identified through our inquiries.
Strategies to promote safety in New Zealand’s recreational boating sector focus on encouraging self-reliance and skipper responsibility through safety awareness and education. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s view is that the system is flawed because it relies on users knowing the rules, regulations and bylaws, but does not require them to demonstrate such knowledge before taking a craft on the water. This situation is anomalous with the aviation and road sectors. In 2009 we recommended that the Secretary for Transport address this issue. The recommendation remains open.
The detrimental effects of drugs and alcohol on cognitive abilities are well documented. International research suggests the likelihood and severity of accidents increase if people responsible for performing safety-critical tasks use drugs or alcohol. In the New Zealand air, rail, and marine accidents investigated by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, the consumption of alcohol or use of other performance impairing substances recurs as a contributing factor or a potential impediment to survival. Since the Commission first placed this item on the Watchlist, commercial aviation and maritime operators have been required to have drug and alcohol management plans while regulators are to be given testing powers. However more can still, and should, be done.
Across the air, rail, and maritime transport modes, tracking and locating technologies offer ways to improve people’s chances of avoiding or surviving an accident or incident and ensuring they can be found. Transport Accident Investigation Commission inquiries in all three modes have suggested opportunities exist for New Zealanders to get greater benefit from the life-saving technologies available to them. We encourage transport regulators to educate operators of the significant safety advantages of using the most technologically advanced tracking and locating devices that are reasonable and affordable, and to regulate for this in some circumstances.