Fleet opinion is divided over new proposals which could extend the period before the first MOT test from three to four years.
Last month, the Government launched a consultation on whether to allow all vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes an additional year before they had to undergo official tests.
Alternative proposals include only allowing an increase for cars and motorcycles, while requiring vans to continue to be checked after three years.
A third option would keep the system in its current form.
Fleets have raised particular concerns about the proposed extension to the first MOT for vans.
Official statistics suggest the average mileage for a car presented for its first MOT is 32,000 miles, compared to around 70,000 miles for vans.
As a result, the failure rate for vans tends to be double that of cars.
Members of fleet operators’ association ACFO were unanimous in a survey on the issue, with 100% voting to keep the MOT for vans at three years.
Peter Golding, managing director of fleet software and management specialist Fleet Check, supported their views. He said: “On a home delivery fleet, for example, it is not unusual to find a four-year-old van that has already covered 200,000 miles or more, which represents a huge amount of wear and tear being placed on a vehicle without an official safety inspection taking place.”
However, fleets were divided on the correct approach for cars, with 60% of ACFO members in favour of moving to four years.
In a Fleet News poll readers were asked if they thought extending the first MOT for cars was good news for the fleet industry and opinion was divided, with 51% voting ‘yes’ and 49% voting ‘no’.
The Government argues that the current three-year test, introduced in 1967, is out of step with most of Europe, where four years tends to be the benchmark for cars.
In addition, vehicle components are more reliable and failures tend to be related to basic maintenance issues, such as lights, that could be dealt with by encouraging drivers to carry out regular checks themselves.
Peter Bonney, who runs the Salvation Army’s fleet of 800 cars and 200 vans, supported a longer first MOT for cars, while maintaining the status quo for vans.
He said: “I think the move to four years for the MOT on cars is a good idea but vans have a harder life so I wouldn’t be in favour of a change. Northern Ireland has had the first MOT after four years for cars for many years and we have not found it to be an issue.”
He argued that following any extension it would be important for fleets to review service reminders and driver monitoring to ensure employees were taking care of their vehicles.
“It’s nothing extra to what should already be in place, perhaps just more rigorously enforced,” he said.
However, fleet consultant Phil Redman disagreed. He said that the increased reliability of vehicles means many drivers are no longer in the habit of carrying out basic checks.
In addition, extended maintenance intervals have reduced garage visits where safety checks could be made.
He said: “I cannot see companies increasing their fleet expenditure to establish or extend their vehicle inspection practice, neither do I think it likely that private motorists will increase their diligence, so there are increased safety concerns. On balance it would be dangerous to extend the initial non-MOT period from three to four years for cars and vans.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) recognises these concerns in its consultation. It points to research by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which suggests that extending testing from three to four years for cars and vans would increase road deaths by between two and four fatalities a year, with an additional 21 to 39 serious injuries. However, the consultation argues that the calculations are based on a ‘relatively simple’ approach.
It also reveals that since 2006, the number of cars that were three or four years old involved in personal-injury accidents, where defects were a contributory factor, declined from 155 a year to 57.
The consultation will run until April 16, 2017, with any changes introduced in 2018.