The economic crisis in which the UK finds itself just as the covid pandemic looked to be over is causing much political activity. A large part of this is due to the dramatic hike in fuel prices, which has hit domestic fuel bills and, particularly, prices at the petrol pump. This squeeze on domestic resources trumped all other considerations in the French presidential elections and is also putting a lot of pressure on those at the top of the British government. In a surprise move, one way of cutting costs for the average household has been suggested which is controversial, to say the least; changing the rules on the need for an annual MOT test.
The yearly vehicle health check was introduced by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) in 1960. Initially brought in to test vehicles of ten years and older, over time that period has dropped to three years; until that point, vehicles are deemed roadworthy as they have just come off the production line. Also changed since 1960 has been the range of tests carried out during the MOT examination; apart from anything else, the technology used in modern vehicles would have been unimaginable at the outset. Still at the heart of the MOT, however, are vital checks on tires, brakes, and visibility. All of these can deteriorate significantly over a 12-month period.
In a shock announcement by the government, however, it seems that these vital annual checks can wait for two years. This being the case, the “average” motorist will be able to spread the £54.85 cost of the MOT over two years. This has been labeled as one of the “innovative” ways the government can help ease financial pressures on families; an innovation thought up by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. As such, the initiative will be presented to a body called the Domestic and Economic Strategy Committee, which is looking at ways to tackle the worst cost of living rises in thirty years.
The announcement immediately provoked opposition from a wide range of organizations and individuals. Many on social media ridiculed the amount of money saved, which amounts to less than £28 per year. As families face a trebling in their energy bills, critics say, they are more likely to stop using a car at all than appreciate such a small annual reduction. Indeed, it is the likely effects on motoring as a whole that have led to the loudest critics.
A spokesperson for one of the UK’s biggest motorists’ associations pointed out that, in fact, this initiative would actually leave vehicle owners worse off financially. This is because, if motorists leave their vehicles untested for two years, it is much more like that they will need repairing. As any regular driver knows, the cost of repairs and replacements is very much higher than that of paying for an annual MOT test.
Although items like tires will need replacing at the same rate, the fact is that worn parts have a knock-on effect throughout a vehicle. As well as unnecessary wear and tear on machinery, there are now hundreds of sensors that will activate warning lights due to even the smallest sign of failure or unresponsiveness. Any one of these warning lights could lead to a failed MOT, which means booking another test anyway, as well as paying for repairs on the affected part.
Apart from disputing any savings from which vehicle owners might benefit, road safety organizations have raised serious concerns about the roadworthiness of untested vehicles. Much is made of the fact that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world; this is due in large part to the health of the vehicles using them, which in turn is large because of the annual MOT system. Indeed, a leading road safety expert pointed out that the government itself recently stopped short of introducing two yearly tests, as it considered the idea unsafe. Motoring organizations’ own members have previously voiced their approval for the current, annual test.
This opinion may be contested by the government, however. If so, they may cite evidence gathered by the Government of Northern Ireland, which carried out its own survey recently. This reportedly showed that a majority of the Province’s motorists were in favor of a two yearly MOT for “younger vehicles”. Exactly what age this refers to is unclear. In the meantime, drivers throughout the UK could soon see the biggest change in road safety checks for over 60 years.