Motorists are forking out over £250m a year on MOT test fees and unnecessary repairs, a new report by the Adam Smith Institute argues.
Twenty thousand garages throughout Great Britain provide the MOT service, which costs drivers up to £29.65 for motorcycles and £54.85 for cars, with the average fee coming in at £33.60. But on top of the initial fee, the average driver will pay £143 in small repair costs (including backlighting of dashboards and speedometers) before the vehicle is ready to pass inspection.
Yet, the Adam Smith Institute argues, much of this cost is unnecessary. The MOT is outdated and fails to target the main cause of vehicle accidents.
New research by Alex Hoagland (the report’s author) and Trevor Woolley found that MOT-style vehicle tests are unneeded. In a statistical analysis, the researchers found that when Washington D.C and New Jersey abolished their inspections (D.C in 2009 and N.J. 2010) on either the rate or severity of accidents due to mechanical failure, suggesting tests were ill-effective at increasing car safety.
The main culprit of car accidents in both the US and the UK is driver error. Over 65% of accidents in the UK are caused by driver behaviour including: speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and not using a seatbelt—none of which an annual MOT test can prevent.
But cars are becoming smarter and safer, and accidents are directly declining as a result, the report argues. In Great Britain road accident fatalities have dropped by about 57% in the last ten years alone, 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.
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. On January 1st, 2018 Utah became the 34th US state to scrap the requirement. In 2015 a US Federal Government report compared crash rates between US states and found no evidence that mandatory safety testing reduced traffic fatality rates.
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 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.
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.
The paper suggests a number of reforms that the government could pursue to save Britons millions in garage fees and unnecessary part replacements, including:
Scrapping the MOT test altogether for all vehicles, except vehicles older than 3 years entering the United Kingdom from abroad.
Reducing the rate of vehicle safety inspections from annually to a less frequent interval (e.g., every 3 or 5 years).
Increasing the testable age of new vehicles from 3 years to 5 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.
Dedicate additional resources to the development and testing of driverless vehicles to remove driver-related accident factors.
Alex Hoagland, author of the paper, 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.”
Sam Dumitriu, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said:
“MOT Tests 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.”
However, not everyone agrees with the report. Many motorist groups believe driving down standards could be detrimental to the British public.
Reacting to suggestions by the thinktank the Adam Smith Institute that the MOT should be scrapped, RAC head of roads policy 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.
“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.
“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.”