Neil Pattemore outlines the potential issues caused by the recent UK Government consultation proposing a change to first time MOT tests. With the number of accidents and fatalities starting to rise on the UK’s roads, has this change really been properly thought out?
There has been a lot written about the UK Government’s consultation on the proposal to change the first MOT test from three years to four, claiming that vehicles are better built and therefore safer. This may be the case, but this often means that modern vehicles are larger and heavier to enable them to meet the NCAP safety requirements – and this additional weight on the vehicle has a detrimental effect on the wear rate of its tyres and brakes.
Although I have relatively strong suspicions that this is a flawed proposal driven by an attempt to offset any criticism for revising the road tax on some vehicles, is this just a colloquial issue, or are there precedents from further afield in Europe?
“Many European countries do much more than the minimum, so it is interesting to see the correlation between those countries who have implemented something above the minimum and those that haven’t in relation to the comparative road casualty statistics.”
In 2015, EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, said: “We have achieved impressive results in reducing road fatalities over recent decades but the current stagnation is alarming. If Europe is to reach its objective of halving road fatalities by 2020, much more needs to be done. I invite Member States to step up their efforts in terms of enforcement and campaigning. This may have a cost, but it is nothing compared to the €100 billion social cost of road fatalities and injuries.”
This does not appear to be an instruction to ‘take your foot off the accelerator’ in trying to reduce road casualties.
So, if we look at the data in this proposal from the European perspective in relation to the government’s claims that the UK has previously ‘gold plated’ European legislation, what does it show? The recently revised European ‘Roadworthiness Directive’ imposes minimum requirements on what needs to be tested and what the minimum test frequency should be. This is set at four years
or the first test, followed by a further test at least every two years (i.e. 4-2-2). However, many European countries do much more than the minimum, so it is interesting to see the correlation between those countries who have implemented something above the minimum and those that haven’t in relation to the comparative road casualty statistics.
Examples of those countries that make a first test earlier include: Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, Italy and Portugal. Other countries go a stage further, with Austria testing motorcycles from year one and Latvia testing all vehicles from year one and then every year. Hungary has an unusual frequency of 1-4-3-2-2.
Those countries that follow the minimum of starting at four years and then every two years include: Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia.
If you look at the road casualties for these two groups, how do their figures compare to their population and their different test frequencies? The average EU fatality rate for 2015 was 51.5 road deaths per million inhabitants. However, with the exception of Spain, all those countries with the minimum test frequency are above this average figure.
“I have relatively strong suspicions that this is a flawed proposal driven by an attempt to offset any criticism for revising the road tax on some vehicles.”
So, what are the figures both in the UK and in Europe?
By comparison, the UK had 30 road deaths per million inhabitants in 2010, which had reduced to 29 by 2015 – a 4% improvement, but still not the best figure in Europe, which is held by Sweden at 28, reducing to 27 over the same period. The Netherlands did even better with figures falling by over 12% to 28 fatalities per million inhabitants in the same period – much better than the UK figures.
The overall European statistics show some interesting trends. The number of injuries has continued to reduce, supporting the government’s claim that cars are getting safer, but the number of accidents and fatalities has started to rise again after years of continuously reducing numbers. It seems that this is a good example of ‘cause and effect’ – if the number of accidents continued to reduce, then both injuries and fatalities would also reduce. This does not correlate with making the first test at four years, with the corresponding likelihood of undetected tyre and brake system wear – especially since recent UK aftermarket data also shows that the number of repairs conducted on four year old vehicles is 44% higher than on three year old vehicles and over 40% of this work is to the braking system!
Interestingly, these figures are not any better on some ‘premium’ brand vehicles. When around 11,500 vehicles per year are already deemed too dangerous to be allowed to leave UK MOT test centres, this indicates that the MOT test is an important part of road safety and in maintaining our low casualty figures.
It seems inconceivable against this background that the UK Government can justify extending the first MOT test to four years when their own research, conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), stated, ‘reducing the frequency of testing for newer vehicles is likely to have adverse road safety consequences’. Enough said.