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Heavy Haulage Conference 2017

Heavy Haulage Conference 2017 - Contractor Mag - Oct 2017 - Featured Image

Napier was the venue for this year’s NZHHA annual conference with art deco-themed entertainment 
serving as a backdrop for much lively debate. 
RUTH LE PLA was there.

This was the first annual get-together since the long-debated new version of the VDAM (Vehicle Dimensions and Mass) Rule came into effect in February this year.While there was still plenty of talk about how some sections of the rule could be improved, this was more about tweaks rather than the full-scale discussions that have dominated conversations at NZHHA conferences in past years.

Napier Conference Centre

While there was still plenty of talk about how some sections of the rule could be improved, this was more about tweaks rather than the full-scale discussions that have dominated conversations at NZHHA conferences in past years.

The VDAM Rule governs heavy vehicle size, weight and operation limit, and carries implications for how the heavy haulage sector operates oversize vehicles and how permits for these heavy vehicles are issued.

NZHHA CEO Jonathan Bhana-Thomson underscored the significance of the review saying it was the industry’s first major look at VDAM since 2002. He said that while “overall” the outcomes were “very good”, restrictions on weekend travel remained a bugbear.

“I thought we had a good negotiated solution… but we’ve ended up with this bizarre situation where the smaller loads can’t travel at the same time as the bigger loads and vice versa on the weekends.”

He described that particular outcome as “a nonsense”.

He also criticised the rules on toll roads. “Having to get explicit approval from NZTA for what is in my view every load, is an unnecessary burden.”

Delegates raised questions and concerns on multiple operational aspects of the new rules throughout the conference. There were many detailed anecdotes around inconsistencies and ambiguities in the guidelines around topics including time restrictions, parking and boundaries.

Among many other places, feedback included questions about the Tauranga Eastern Link (TEL), Wellington’s Transmission Gully motorway and the Puhoi toll road north of Auckland.

Representatives from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) were on hand to hear the feedback. At NZTA’s suggestion, Jonathan undertook to pull together a “hitlist” of topics to take to the agency so that the organisation can develop a business case internally to get such issues addressed.

NZTA lead advisor structures Barry Wright also suggested the agency would be open to the creation of a panel to look at identifying and addressing issues around the country. Initial suggestions on who would be involved included members from the NZHHA, and NZTA central and regional offices.

NZTA advisor Chris Watson and operations engineer Riccardo Areosa presented a summary of changes to over-dimension permits under the new rules. Chris also advised that the Land Transport Amendment Act, that passed through parliament the previous week, will bring in higher penalties for overloading over-dimensional vehicles. These could be up to $15,000, although the specific offences and penalties had not yet been written.

Chris also mentioned possible future improvement around travel zones, manned steering jinkers, pilot training courses and over-width divisible loads.


With the VDAM Rule review now complete, the NZHHA is able to devote more attention to other issues. Chairman Carl Baker, who was re-elected for another term at the AGM in Napier, told Contractor that training and standards for class 2 pilots – the lower of the two categories – is becoming a priority. (See separate story “What next?”)

Board member Pat Power led a lively and closely-debated session on pilots including the group’s draft good practice guide, trialling alternative signage on pilot vehicles and drafted procedures for piloting over the centre line.

He shared the findings of an online industry survey into some of the details around alternative signage on pilot vehicles. These included thoughts on reverse signage (reflective yellow wording on a black background rather than the other way around). Two out of every three respondents thought that would be a good idea.

The survey also showed that three quarters of respondents preferred the wording “Prepare to Stop” versus “Danger Slow Down”. There were mixed reactions to “House Stop” signs on pilot vehicles involved in house relocations, with close to 44 percent voting against the wording while nearly 42 percent were for it. There were concerns about what exactly the signage could mean. As one person commented, “Is the house stopping?”

Perhaps though, as Pat commented, the most conclusive recommendations may come from members of the public who will have to respond to these signs.


In a separate interview with Contractor magazine, Jonathan Bhana-Thomson raised concerns about VDAM rules on toll roads saying that members need to get permission each time for every single load to travel.

“Invariably, the decision has to go back to the local NZTA office that approves it or otherwise,” he says, adding that the responses often do not come back in time to meet commercial timeframes.

He says the process needs to be faster. He suggests NZTA could issue a longer-term permit for smaller loads.

“At the moment, overdimension permits are typically for a week and for one load. Maybe NZTA could issue permits for a three-month period but only for vehicles up to, say, four and a half metres wide.”

He notes the lanes on the Tauranga Eastern Link (TEL), are three and a half metres wide, plus there’s a shoulder.

“So in theory anything up to four and a half, or even five metres, wide could leave one lane open. That means other traffic travelling on the route can come up behind the load – there will be a pilot behind it. They’ll be able to see there’s something big and go in the other lane and pass. So they won’t be held up.”

Jonathan argues this solution could cover ‘everyday’ loads that need to travel.

“There will still be a permit in place. It’s an administrative fix that could be done overnight.”


In other sessions, Inspector Bruce O’Brien talked about the prevention-first strategy behind the Commercial Vehicle Safety Team (CVST), formerly the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit (CVIU). He said that as an example he has directed his staff to police people who cut in front of trucks in fast-moving traffic.

Jonathan said the NZHHA has produced draft good practice guides for its heavy haulage operators, house mover operators and load pilots. He expects these to be finished by the end of the year and work is starting on a guide for the heavy recovery sector.

“Some of it relates to health and safety, some of it is just good practice, some of it is advice to members or people in the industry. We want to document the way we do things well.”


As thoughts turned from the formal sessions to social activities such as golf, an aquarium tour and an art deco fancy dress awards night, the group looked at options for next year’s venue. Cost-permitting, central Brisbane may be on the cards for 2018. Failing that? Maybe Palmerston North.

This article first appeared in Contractor October 2017.

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