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NZTA played 'unacceptable' role in fatal crash involving faulty seatbelt, boss acknowledges

The chief executive of the New Zealand Transport Agency admitted today that the agency's role in a fatal crash earlier this year was "unacceptable".

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"This is not acceptable, and we’re changing that," Fergus Gammie vowed on Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

Passenger William Ball, 65, was killed near Dargaville in January after his frayed seatbelt malfunctioned during a crash. The car never should have passed a warrant of fitness test just a month earlier, Fergus Gammie told TVNZ 1's Breakfast today.

"The family should have been able to rely on their local garage doing their inspection for the warrant correctly," he said of Dargaville Diesel Specialists, which earlier this week had its WOF-issuing license permanently suspended. "They didn't."

NZTA had worked with the company since 2010, when it was first issued a license. The agency was aware of compliance issues dating back to 2011.

"We educated them. We tried to get them to come up to standard, but that didn't work," Mr Gammie said. "So we've announced a change where we'll be much tougher, much quicker to act where people aren't performing correctly.

"This is just not acceptable. In terms of the Transport Agency's role, it was a failure in the way that we did it. It's not acceptable, and we're changing that."

The driver of the car that crashed has pleaded guilty to his role in the death. The garage owner, however, has denied culpability, arguing recently to Radio New Zealand that the car was safe when he inspected it weeks earlier.

The garage has 21 days to appeal its permanent suspension. But the owner told RNZ he would probably sell his business due to the recent stress it has caused.

Since the crash, NZTA has identified and tried to contact about 1950 customers of the Dargaville garage who are now urged to have their vehicles retested. The agency has offered to pay for the new test. But so far, only about a third of the customers have taken up the offer.

NZTA announced last month it will be taking a tougher, enforcement-based approach towards the 9000 garages it monitors from here on out rather than relying on trust and education when seeing a compliance failure.

"We're taking responsibility for our part of this," Mr Gammie said. "The agency's committed to insuring this type of thing doesn't happen again ... basically by taking a much more proactive approach."