Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Towbar Standard Needs Teeth To Save Lives

25 AUGUST 2009 - The current voluntary code for the manufacture of towbars in New Zealand needs to have "regulatory teeth" to prevent more lives being lost.

Because new towbars don't have to meet a safety standard by law, poor products and poor fitment are slipping through the system, according to Michael Parker, who owns Best Bars Ltd, the largest towbar manufacturer in the country.

He fully supports the call by Taranaki Coroner Tim Scott for the New Zealand Transport Agency to make standards for the design and manufacture of tow bars compulsory and to conduct random inspections to ensure compliance.

The Coroner made his plea at an inquest into the death of former Taranaki cricketer Donovan Shelver, 28, who was killed when a boat and trailer came loose from the towing vehicle and crashed into his ute.

Mr Scott also recommended people who frequently towed heavy loads have checks carried out on tow bars for wear and tear.

The lack of an enforceable standard and regular inspection regime has been a concern for Mr Parker's company for many years. Best Bars helped to devise the wording of the proposed NZ Standard 5467:1993 in 1993, but was then disappointed to see it become a voluntary rule rather than a compulsory one.

"I have never been able to understand why the Ministry of Transport and its agencies decided not to enforce the towbar standard by law," says Mr Parker.

"Unless the towbar rule gets regulatory teeth, and also becomes part of the Warrant of fitness checks, we are going to see more accidents like the one that claimed Mr Shelver."

The Ministry of Transport's own statistics indicate that towing plays a part in a number of road accidents each year - eight people were killed, 39 were seriously injured and 140 received minor injuries in crashes involving a light vehicle towing a trailer in 2008 alone.

Mr Parker says there are a number of issues that affect the safety of a towbar that need to be addressed: Sub-standard materials or fittings that are too light for the task Poor workmanship that leads to a towbar being fitted incorrectly Vehicle chassis be strong enough to support a towbar (often the case with used imported Japanese cars) Use of second-hand towbars that are worn or rusted Second-hand towbars being mismatched to another vehicle and the old fasteners used, instead of new fasteners Ongoing wear and tear and/or corrosion.

All towbars made by Best Bars are manufactured from steel plate and tube that has been mill tested to meet the required use. All fastenings are high tensile and the product goes through a six tank paint process for protection from the elements, including a zinc phosphate treatment prior to painting.

Each towbar design is then put through an on-vehicle test by a special machine developed by Best Bars. It replicates loading to 1.5 times the towbar's maximum rating to provide an extra safety margin. The Best Bars factory is also accredited to the international ISO9001:2000 quality programme.

Mr Parker says a towbar has to be made to last the lifetime of the vehicle, so the quality of the design, manufacture and fit has to be first class. He says that anyone purchasing a towbar or a vehicle fitted with a towbar needs to look for the NZ Standard mark to be sure it is designed and made correctly, as can be witnessed on Approved Accessories supplied to leading new vehicle dealerships via Best Bars Ltd.

Best Bars has built up a wealth of knowledge and expertise on towbars over the past 28 years and now designs and makes towbars as original equipment for many vehicle manufacturers both in New Zealand and Australia.

Best Bars has more than 600 current towbar designs and has produced over 600,000 towbars to the NZS5467 compliance rule.

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