A report calling for the MOT to be either scrapped or the frequency of inspections reduced has been labelled a “recipe for disaster”.
Think tank the Adam Smith Institute argues that the MOT is outdated and fails to target the main cause of vehicle accidents.
New research by the report’s authors Alex Hoagland and Trevor Woolley found that when Washington DC and New Jersey abolished their inspections (in 2009 and 2010 respectively) it had no impact on either the rate or severity of accidents due to mechanical failure, suggesting tests were ill-effective at increasing car safety.
Sam Dumitriu, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “MOTs are meant to prevent crashes and save lives, but they’ve never been put to the test themselves.
“New evidence from the US found that scrapping similar mandatory vehicle safety inspections had no impact on crash rates. Evidence, not gut feeling, should guide policy.”
The report says that cars are becoming smarter and safer, and accidents are directly declining as a result.
In Great Britain, road accident fatalities have dropped by about 57% in the past 10 years, from 3,172 in 2006 to 1,792 in 2016. These reductions track the introduction of new cars with better safety features into the UK suggesting that safety of new car models, rather than the MOT test, is driving the reduction in safety, the report argues.
It says that just 2% of road accidents are caused by mechanical faults in the UK. The same rate as in the majority of US states that no longer require vehicle safety inspections.
When the MOT test was introduced in the UK in the 1950s many cars on the road were second-hand and manufactured prior to 1940. Many had defects and hadn’t been serviced since their initial sale.
The Ministry of Transport required an annual test of vehicles older than 10 years for steering, brakes and lighting. This quickly spiralled down to cars older than 3 years with extra testing on emissions added in the 1990s. But while safety features have been on the rise the test’s core components have remained unchanged.
While campaign groups like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) continue to push the idea that recent declines in vehicle crashes and casualties in Great Britain were thanks in part to the MOT system, most recently in a Government consultation in 2018, recent statistical analysis has shown these claims to be on shaky ground, claims the report.
Hoagland and Woolley highlight the repeal of mandatory inspections in New Jersey which had little—if any—effect on the car failures of fatalities rate, and that annual safety inspections have no effect on reducing either the rate of severity of accidents due to mechanical failures.
Hoagland said: “The UK has required MOT testing for decades, in order to prevent crashes and fatalities from unreliable vehicles. Nowadays, vehicles are safer than ever, leading some governments to re-inspect these programs.
“When these safety inspections were done away with in some US states, accident rates did not change. There’s no evidence that vehicle safety inspections improve vehicle safety.”
The paper suggests a number of reforms, including scrapping the MOT test altogether for all vehicles, except vehicles older than three years entering the United Kingdom from abroad, or reducing the rate of vehicle safety inspections from annually to a less frequent interval (e.g. every three or five years).
It also suggests increasing the testable age of new vehicles from three years to five years (or more); separating the MOT into two tests: one less frequent test for vehicle safety inspection, the other testing only carbon emissions; focusing more resources on campaigns intended to reduce travelling without a seat belt, speeding, and/or substance abuse while driving; and dedicate additional resources to the development and testing of driverless vehicles to remove driver-related accident factors.
RAC roads policy spokesman Nicholas Lyes said: “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.”
He continued: “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?
“We accept the MOT test isn’t perfect, but we’re far better to have it than not. In fact, we would like to see it reviewed more regularly and believe there is an argument to base it not just on vehicle age, but also on the number of miles it has been driven.”
He also suggests that the Government will also have no appetite for looking at the MOT again so soon after making changes to it this year, which included widening its scope in some areas.
The Independent Garage Association (IGA) and National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) also strongly oppose the report from the Adam Smith Institute recommending the abolishment of the MOT test.
Sue Robinson, NFDA director, said: “Without an MOT, customers would be likely to incur additional expenses due to the damage caused by unresolved basic wear and tear issues affecting items including light bulbs, brake pads, tyres, wiper blades, steering and emissions which need to be constantly checked and can easily escalate into more severe problems.
“In January, the Government acknowledged that ‘data relating to accidents involving mechanical failure would improve testing at year three’ instead of four and we believe abolishing the MOT test could have potentially devastating road safety implications.”
To read the Adam Smith Institute report, click here.