The Adam Smith Institute was all over the mainstream media yesterday, talking up their proposal to scrap the annual MoT test for all cars and vans over three years old. It’s an interesting idea, given that the MoT has been around for about 50 years and during that time cars have become incredibly reliable compared to their rustbucket, wiring failure predecessors from the 1960s.
The Adam Smith think tank also highlighted their estimate of an extra £250 million a year that UK drivers spend on unnecessary repairs, as a result of failing the test, or simply being fooled by less scrupulous garages. Certainly many of us have spent a painful two or three minutes listening to a load of tripe being spouted as our cars are poked and prodded on ramps, only to book the car in at another garage and receive a Pass with no advisories.
The AA’s President Edmund King spent a tectchy ten minutes on Radio 4 this evening arguing that the AA’s own survey found UK drivers never check their tyre tread, never notice a blown bulb warning light and that 94% of AA members said the MoT test was quite important when it came to car safety.
But Edmund King failed to address the evidence from the USA, where some States have long since abolished the annual vehicle check and others demand a yearly check-up. Nor did he pick up on the Adam Smith point that in Germany an inspection is required after three years, and then every two years – not annually. Anyone who has driven in Germany will know that driving standards – and speeds – are noticeably higher than in the UK.
Surely then, with less safe, possibly faulty cars travelling at high speed the accident rates in Germany would be much higher? We will get to that later, meanwhile from the RAC, Head of Roads Policy Nick Lyes commented;
“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. We can’t imagine this would have any support from the UK public.
“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. And while road accidents caused by mechanical failures might be low, how much of this is as a result of the MOT test existing?
Like the AA, the RAC is very keen not to rock the boat and keep the existing annual MoT, which is a nice earner for car repair garages, franchised dealerships, and the UK government of course. But let’s look at facts, not gut feeling, revenue targets, surveys or opinion.
FACT-CHECK: ACCIDENT RATES IN GERMANY VS UK
This is the crux of the matter; does an annual test regime actually prevent accidents?
If you look at the official data from Germany here, then you can see that despite a rise from 16 million in total, to 56 million vehicles on the roads in 2016, the downward trend in accidents, and the number of fatalities, is obvious in one simple graphic. The accidents-per-kilometre rate has also dropped, from 1.5 to 0.4 in the last 46 years too.
If you look at the UK road traffic stats over the last 60 years or so, then you see exactly the same pattern; more vehicles on the roads, more miles covered, and a massive drop overall in casualties, both fatal and less serious. The data is here.
Conclusion: There really is no major difference in road accident rates between Germany and UK, despite we Brits undergoing an annual MoT test and the Germans having a bi-annual safety check. This is called science, these are facts not emotions.
The sooner both UK motoring groups stop being political campaign lobbyists, and start looking at the real causes of accidents, then we will make progress.
How will we lower the number of fatalities on our roads? By investing in using autonomous cars and delivery vans, smarter roads with sensors that interact with traffic; scanning for stolen cars, or aggressively driven vehicles – in other words using tech to target damgerous drivers.
How can we reduce cycle and pedestrian fatalities? By building truly separate cycleways in towns and cities, so that cars, lorries and buses do NOT share the same space as bikes, and neither do pedestrians. Give cyclists a legal priority over cars in cities, as the Dutch have been doing for decades. Tackle the emissions problems of older, badly maintained vehicles with more rigour – especially stinking diesel school buses and black taxis – and get them off the road. We can all breathe easier then.
Set up a system of classic permits, where owners can take high emissions cars and motorcycles out 20 times a year to rallies and shows, subject to a mobile emissions test, carried out at home – this is what they do in Germany, and it works. People maintain their much cherished classics to a high standard because they have invested thousands in them and want to use them occasionally.
The MoT test is a relic from the 1960s, and like much of the Highway Code, it belongs in the dustbin of history. The way to save lives is to crunch data, from a variety of sources, to identify dangerous, or illegal drivers and separate vulnerable road users from high risk situations by using safer infrastructure.