It was established by Act of the Parliament of New Zealand on 1 September 1990. TAIC's legislation, functions and powers were modelled on and share some similarities with the National Transportation Safety Board (USA) and the Transportation Safety Board (Canada). England, Australia, Holland, Sweden, and Finland also have similar boards or authorities for conducting independent inquiries into transport accidents and incidents.
TAIC is similar to a standing Commission of Inquiry. A standing Commission eliminates the time taken to set up individual judicial inquiries into significant accidents, and retains the skills and experience necessary to undertake what can be very complex and far-reaching investigations into almost every facet of a transport system. The ability of the Commission to carry out much of its investigation work in camera contributes to shorter and more effective inquiries because the parties assisting the Commission with its investigation can concentrate on the inquiry's purpose without the distractions, pressures, and posturing sometimes associated with public inquiries.
TAIC's multi-modal approach facilitates the sharing of investigative process expertise across the transport modes. Some investigations will also span the modes.
Unlike some overseas independent safety investigation agencies, TAIC has no mandate to investigate road or pipeline occurrences.
The words "accident" and "incident" are defined in the relevant civil aviation, marine, or land transport legislation. "Accident" often includes an event resulting in death or serious injury, or resulting in substantial structural failure. "Incident" normally means any occurrence, other than an accident, that affects or could affect the safety of a transport operation. For simplicity in these pages the word "accident" or "occurrence" encompasses both accidents and incidents, since it is often only a matter of chance whether the outcome of the occurrence was an accident or an incident.
TAIC maintains its independence for four important reasons:
TAIC initiates investigations into about 50 accidents and incidents per year. Those which, after initial investigation, are considered to have significant implications for transport safety are investigated to the extent necessary and a summary of the investigation issued in the form of a public report.
TAIC prioritises its investigating and reporting according to the potential to prevent similar accidents. The severity of the occurrence investigated may have little bearing on its potential for preventing similar accidents. For example an incident where no injury occurred may yield far greater safety benefits than an accident involving loss of life, so the investigation of the incident may receive a much higher priority, than the accident which might not be investigated at all if it is considered not to hold significant implications for transport safety.
If, after an investigation has been closed, new evidence becomes available which has or is likely to have new and significant implications for transport safety, TAIC will re-open the investigation.
Neither economic considerations nor the extent of pollution of the environment influences the selection of accidents for investigation: TAIC's focus is safety of people.
In recognising the importance of preventing similar accidents in future, TAIC's Act gives it primacy of access to and control over an accident site and evidence at the site.
In addition, TAIC's inspectors, under a standing warrant issued by the Chief Commissioner, have the power to:
The powers of investigators can be extended by special warrant to include entry to a dwelling or marae.
Safety recommendations are arguably the Commission's most important product for avoiding similar occurrences in the future. Consultation on preliminary SRs will not always reveal the difficulties or cost of putting the final SR into practice, so it is not reasonable to expect all SRs to be implemented. It would also be inappropriate for TAIC to enforce all its SRs as this would erode the Commission's independence. If a recipient does not implement an SR, the option always exists for the state to assess importance, cost, and benefit, and if necessary intervene and enforce implementation.
TAIC's 1500 SRs made in the last 10 years may have gone unheeded. However, given the relevant information, TAIC can provide an opinion on whether an SR has been implemented, or whether a decision not to implement is reasonable.
Recognising the potential importance of TAIC's SRs, the Minister of Transport in October 2000 asked the safety authorities to participate in returning information to TAIC showing completed action to implement all new SRs. TAIC now forms a view as to whether the evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that each new SR has been implemented. The process covers all SRs developed since October 2000.
If the recipient of an SR or the safety authority provides sufficient evidence of completed action, TAIC records the SR status as "closed - acceptable". Seven SRs were "closed - acceptable" since October 2000. While the number closed sounds low in relation to the 112 SRs finalised, this system is in its infancy. It may take some time to implement an SR to ensure lasting benefit through appropriate integration with existing systems.
If sufficient evidence is provided that the SR cannot be implemented, for example cost outweighs benefit, TAIC records the status as "closed - cancelled". No SRs have been assigned "closed - cancelled". Until sufficient evidence is received to close the SR, the status remains "open".
The text of all SRs will be published on the TAIC website www.taic.org.nz, together with the status of the SR. The status of all SRs developed before the status system was launched will be listed as "unknown", unless information received (for example, a subsequent investigation) enables TAIC to assign another status.