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Sollys Freight fined over driver who entered false rest break in logbook before crash

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Sollys Freight has been fined after one of its drivers was convicted on charges related to false entries in his logbook following a crash earlier this year. Photo / Tracy Neal

A road freight firm has been fined $2750 after one of its drivers entered a rest break in his log book, hours before he was due to stop.

Andre Pontes might have got away with it had he not crashed his timber-laden truck 330 kilometres from his rest point, wiping out a power pole and cutting electricity to residents for hours.

Tākaka-based Sollys Freight admitted seven charges in the Nelson District Court of allowing a vehicle to be used when a logbook contained false information.

It followed Pontes’ conviction in July after he was charged with careless driving, a representative charge of making a false statement in a logbook, plus other charges related to exceeding driver work time on the road and failing to take a proper break.

The police said that driver fatigue was part of a growing focus for police road safety officials.

About 6.25pm on February 22 this year, Pontes was driving a truck and trailer loaded with processed timber south on State Highway 6, Belgrove, about 31 kilometres south of Nelson city.

It was raining heavily and the road was slippery after a long, dry spell.

Pontes lost control of the truck as he rounded a corner at 89km/h when the recommended speed limit for heavy vehicles was 65km/h, the police summary of facts said.

The vehicle slid across the road and into the opposite lane before crashing through a fence and in to a paddock.

A power pole knocked down cut residents’ electricity for about seven hours.

The truck remained upright but Pontes received minor injuries including a concussion.

Police said the vehicle was of a type and class that meant the driver had to comply with worktime and logbook laws. Pontes handed over his logbook to the police on request.

An initial inspection of entries showed that they seemed compliant, with the “notable exception” that Pontes had pre-recorded a half-hour rest at Amberley, which was 332 kilometres from Belgrove, for 10pm to 10.30pm that evening.

His regular run was on a night shift from Richmond, near Nelson, to Hornby in Christchurch, an 826km round trip over what was described as difficult terrain at night.

“Even if he hadn’t crashed, he would not have made that destination in that time,” police said.

They said false or misleading information in logbooks could hide excess work times and mandated rests which ultimately impacted road safety.

A subsequent check on the accuracy of Pontes’ entries between February 13 and 22 showed what police said was a raft of logbook and worktime offences.

Sollys Freight was asked to hand over copies of logbook pages, plus wage and fuel records which were analysed alongside data gathered from Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and crime prevention cameras along the route.

The vehicle Pontes was driving was fitted with an e-road electronic distance recorder/road user licence device which was GPS-based and allowed the operator to monitor the location, speed and things such as harsh braking or driving over the speed limit in real time, or by recorded information.

The company was charged and eventually admitted on Thursday that on the day Pontes started work it had allowed him to drive the vehicle when his logbook contained false details about rest and work times.

Each of the seven charges carried a maximum fine of $25,000.

On the day of the crash, Pontes alleged he had been held up from leaving Richmond because the truck had been unavailable as it was being used elsewhere.

He said it had affected his ability to complete his trip within the legal hours, and that he was under pressure to do the run.

He also told police that he had been taking breaks, but not of the required duration and that he had spoken about this with management at the Richmond depot but nothing had been done to fix the matter

Sollys told police Pontes was meant to have been told an hour before that his truck was ready but that didn’t happen.

The company also told police the logbook pages had been sent directly to the pay clerk without being checked for accuracy.

Judge Tony Zohrab acknowledged steps made by the company in changing its approach to make sure it could not be “blindsided” again.

In setting the fine, from a starting point of $5000, Judge Zohrab also acknowledged Sollys’ role as a “good corporate citizen” from the work it did in the community as a sponsor and supporter of local events.

Sollys has been operating since 1978 and employed 165 staff across the South Island.

Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.



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