Claims of illegal hours by former Summerland driver

Former Summerland driver Vasile Urechiatu says he quit after repeatedly working more hours than...
Former Summerland driver Vasile Urechiatu says he quit after repeatedly working more hours than are legal, fearing he would cause a crash. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A Summerland truck driver who quit after repeatedly working more than 70 hours a week says he feared he was going to cause a serious crash.

Vasile Urechiatu says he repeatedly worked illegal shifts of more than 14 hours, while the transport firm concedes it made mistakes in allowing him to break work-time rules.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) said it was taking the driver's allegations "extremely seriously", and would be investigating, as he prepares to meet police.

Mr Urechiatu, originally from Romania and now living in Christchurch, came to New Zealand about nine months ago from a previous truck driving job in Ireland.

He was sponsored by Cromwell company Summerland Express Freight and was looking forward to the lifestyle of his dreams.

"I came to New Zealand to live my dream, for fishing and hunting."

However, Mr Urechiatu said he repeatedly worked more hours than are legal while driving his routes, which usually involved travelling from Christchurch to Dunedin or Cromwell and back again.

His timesheets show he repeatedly worked 80-hour weeks including breaks, consisting mainly of 14-hour days, but he says these timesheets underestimated how much he was working.

The NZTA limits drivers to 13 hours per day (plus half-hour breaks required every five and a-half hours) before they must take a 10-hour break.

They are allowed to accumulate 70 hours of work before they must take a 24-hour break - Mr Urechiatu said he always took this 24-hour break after the 70-hour cumulative period, but the amount of time he worked each day was regularly above legal limits.

Mr Urechiatu, who previously crashed a Summerland truck in Blenheim, said the long shifts caused him to drive dangerously, due to fatigue.

"I drifted [over] the lines many times. It happened because I was very tired."

He met Summerland general manager Grant Lowe and other management to air his concerns, and said he was given an assurance he would no longer work illegal hours.

On Tuesday this week, it happened again, and he resigned the following day.

"After all this, they got me again to work 14 hours and 35 minutes.

"I don't accept any more of this, because I don't want to kill people on the road."

Mr Urechiatu has spoken to police and will meet an officer from the commercial vehicle safety team (CVST).

The CVST has investigated five crashes involving Summerland trucks on southern roads since late 2017.

In two of the crashes, the truck drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Mr Lowe said yesterday the company had allowed Mr Urechiatu to work more hours than were legally allowed over a two-week period, blaming a manager's mistake.

"In this case, there are some parts where we haven't been as good as we should be."

He claimed Mr Urechiatu did not need to work such long hours but did so because his driving was not up to scratch.

"We did everything we could to help him through some driving difficulties."

Mr Urechiatu acknowledged he sometimes took longer than expected to complete routes, saying driving in New Zealand was more difficult than in Ireland or Germany.

An NZTA spokesman said the agency had been approached by Mr Urechiatu and it would investigate his allegations of regulation breaches.

"Safety is our top priority, and we take allegations of this kind extremely seriously."

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