Proposal to scrap MoT meets heavy opposition

More controversy and debate has arisen over MoT testing following a call from the Adam Smith Institute for the MoT test to be scrapped, with the prominent thinktank organisation’s stance meeting heavy opposition from motoring organisations.

In a report penned by Alex Hoagland, the ASI deem the MoT test in its current form to be “outdated” and “useless” now vehicle technology levels have increased. It states that road accident fatalities have dropped to just 57 per cent of what they were a decade ago, believing that it’s the increased safety of newer cars rather than the effectiveness of the MoT test driving the increase in road safety.

The report claims that only 2 per cent of all accidents in 2016 involved any form of mechanical failure, and that this rate compares to regions of similar demographics that do not require safety inspections, such as the majority of states in the USA. It also points to a study in 2009 identifying that over 65 per cent of accidents in the UK are due to due to driver-specific factors such as driving at excessive speeds, abusing alcohol or other drugs, or travelling without a seat belt. This, the ASI concludes, means government policy should “bring itself into the 21st century by striving to make drivers—not vehicles—safer and more reliable,” adding that “increased focus on distracted and unsafe driving practices will surely be more effective at reducing fatalities than any vehicular inspection program.”

Furthermore, the ASI points to a potential cost saving by scrapping the MoT test – according to the report they generate around £250 million in annual revenue across 20,000 garages throughout Britain. It says the average driver will pay £143 in repair costs (mostly on minor repairs) before the vehicle is ready to pass inspection, and yet “recent evidence suggests that these inspections have almost no effect on road safety.”

As you might expect, the report has been heavily condemned in motoring circles. Neil Worth, road safety officer for breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist, said: “Removing the requirement for drivers to ensure their vehicles are checked annually would be a massive backward step for road safety. This would obviously lead to a significant rise in vehicles on our roads with all kinds of dangerous defects that would only become apparent after a collision.

“GEM has long campaigned for driver education to lead the way in reducing death and serious injury on the roads, but any approach to road safety has to be joined up. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to eliminate crashes, so the idea of focusing solely on driver error, as proposed by the Adam Smith Institute, is misguided.”

A spokesperson for the RAC added: “Scrapping the MoT would be a huge backward step and a recipe for disaster. It would mean drivers would no longer have to do anything routinely to check their vehicles are safe which could lead to huge numbers of vehicles being driven that pose a danger to all road users. More than a third of all cars and vans taken in for an MoT each year initially fail, so clearly the test is picking up some problems that need addressing that might otherwise make a vehicle unsafe.”

In our view, the ASI report takes a huge leap of faith in relying on the safety of modern vehicles and dismissing the importance of the MoT test. While the safety of modern cars is improving, there are still a significant proportion of older vehicles on the UK’s roads. In these cases, the government’s defence regarding the 40-year rolling exemption – centring on good maintenance and infrequent use for cherished vehicles – will surely be far less applicable.

There are further issues at play here too, such as a raft parts flooding the market that fall short of OE-standards and could fail at any time, yet remain attractive to some garages and DIY mechanics looking to save on servicing and repair costs.

An annual inspection will be far from foolproof in highlighting such issues and drivers should certainly not rely on an annual MoT test for maintenance, but to have an annual inspection is surely better than nothing at all. It’s a cultural thing – motorists have had the MoT test as a safety net for so long, that actually inspecting items like tyres themselves will need a shift in mentality.

We also take issue with the report’s claim that the MoT test has remained essentially unchanged for half a century – this following a major shakeup in May that introduced different categories for defects, new items for testing and stricter emission controls. And yet, in the same breath, the report lambasts recent iterations of the MoT test for increasing burdens on drivers, pointing to what it deems “non-critical vehicular issues” becoming necessary standards for passing the test, such as the backlighting of the speedometer and warning lights. We would argue a nonlit speedo could cause an accident at night, especially if a driver is taking his attention away from the road to work out how fast he or she is travelling in a safety camera zone, for example.

There’s also the environmental side, too. The MoT test now increasingly covers environmental factors such as tampering with Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF), emissions checks and so on. Without these checks, emissions could go unregulated and cause damage.

Just because something can be argued to have a minimal effect on accidents does not mean regulation should be removed, and do so would be a hugely backward step. Fortunately we can’t see this proposal gaining much support, but it wouldn’t be the first time the MoT test has been changed in spite of widespread opposition…

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