Testing Stations

Making Driving Safer – Gary Silverwood

Make Driving Safer x

Meet Gary Silverwood, our Senior Vehicle Inspector at VINZ Hamilton. Gary has been inspecting vehicles for almost three decades. For him, it’s personal. Read the full article to find out why. #MakingDrivingSafer

Gary has been inspecting vehicles for almost three decades. For him, it’s personal; his mother was killed in a car accident. “Keeping cars safe is my passion,” he says.

South Africa born Gary is an A Grade mechanic with 28 years’ experience on the bench. He has been in New Zealand for 12 years and at VINZ Hamilton since 2014. Like all VINZ inspectors he’s qualified to carry out a wide range of inspections including WoF, COF-B, and Vehicle Entry Certifications.

“Over time I have learned a great deal about the rules, issues and complexities around vehicle safety,” he says. “I’m still learning today as rules are amended and technology improves.

He says a good day at work is when someone thanks him for pointing out the safety problems that led him to fail their vehicle. “I’m telling them something that they wouldn’t have known otherwise, something which, if I hadn’t identified it, would have meant their vehicle was not safe to drive.”

Sometimes It can be hard getting a failed inspection message across to a person who’s not mechanically minded,” he says.” As far as they’re concerned it’s simple; the car goes when you want it to, it stops when you want it to and there are no funny noises.

The job is challenging, he says, and always fresh, “I’ve been doing this for 28 years and I’m still learning.”

As well as, WoF, CoF and Vehicle Entry Certifications, Gary is also involved in serious crash investigations. VINZ Hamilton is appointed by the Serious Crash Unit of the New Zealand Police Force.

When a serious accident occurs, the police close off the road, take photos and have the vehicle towed to the salvage yard. It’s only then the police, are allowed, to call in the inspectors. This happens once or twice a week in Hamilton. The police can explain their concerns, for example, did the brakes fail? But Gary doesn’t just look at that he carries out a rigorous inspection of the vehicle.

“We are not there to determine the cause or appoint blame,” he says, “only to comment on the vehicle’s condition.”

There are risks associated with these investigations. There may be biosecurity hazards, like blood. And if there is broken glass or metal the inspector may need to wear safety glasses — or a protective mask if the vehicle caught fire.

The serious crash inspector prepares a file that may be used in evidence as, in a confidential expert report on the facts with respect to the vehicle. Three categories of evidence are considered:

  • Historical factors – the state of the vehicle prior to the crash
  • Crash-related damage
  • Any modifications to the vehicle

“Our job is to give a qualified, objective report on the vehicle’s condition,” says Gary. “We don’t speculate or make any conjecture about what may have contributed to the crash or caused any injuries.

“It’s up to the police to decide how they want to use our report. There are several possible outcomes. They may decide to present the evidence to the coroner, if the accident resulted in a death. They may decide that the evidence is not sufficiently conclusive and file the report. Or they may bring a prosecution, in which case we may have to appear in court as expert witnesses. That happens two or three times a year.”

Gary stresses that this is not a VINZ decision “We provide a detailed, factual, accurate report. In these reports we do not make recommendations. If we can see the brake pads or tyres are worn, we say so. We don’t speculate about how this affected the car’s behaviour. We don’t offer an opinion. We don’t make any comment on the condition of the road or the effect that we think any road safety features (like rumble strips, media strips, barriers) might have had. Coroners can comment on that. We can’t. That’s not our role.