I remember the hullabaloo in 2012 when it was announced that pre-1960 vehicles would no longer require an MoT test in order to be made legal for the road in the UK. At the time, the classic press found itself up in arms and exasperated at the way in which it could be entirely possible to drag a dilapidated old 1959 Hillman Minx out of your nearest shed, insure it, slap a tax disc on it, and go and cause mayhem on your local High Street.
Of course, the spate of fatal accidents predicted in the press never happened, the situation calmed down, it slipped down the news agenda, and the world carried on. My own feelings at the time were very much in the ‘it’s not the end of the world’ camp, believing that anyone with a pre-1960 car was pretty committed to the cause, and would by association, be pretty hot about keeping their car in tip-top condition.
The Department of Transport’s line on this pretty much follows that reasoning, stating, ‘Vehicles licensed before 1960 make up about 0.6% of the total number of licensed vehicles in Britain, but are involved in just 0.03% of road casualties and accidents. Initial MoT test failure rates for these vehicles in 2009 was less than 10%, while the initial MoT test failure rate for vehicles manufactured after 1960 was over 30%.’ So, the argument for the DoT was very much a statistical one, which chimed with my own feelings.
You could also add that a great number of MoT stations simply don’t understand the perils of testing old cars, with some testers blindly believing that old cars should meet modern standards of braking and lighting, for instance. Clearly, a car designed 50 years ago is not going to have the stopping power of a three-year old ‘modern’.
But three years on, and in tandem with the upcoming EU Roadworthiness Directive has put forward the recommendation that all pre-1984 vehicles should be exempted in the way pre-1960 ones are in the UK. Okay, so the consultation period for the UK’s decision into whether we should join this or not has passed, the decision is yet to be made whether we should adopt this European suggestion, and no doubt, impassioned discussions are still ongoing. I’ve been involved in a few myself.
And in short, I do not believe that anyone will benefit from the extension of an MoT exemption in the UK. If we roll back to 2012, and the pre-1960 decision, the DoT’s statistical argument is simply self-serving – look at it this way, if 0.03% of all 5.45 million people who flew out of Heathrow last year were involved in fatal accidents as a consequence, you’d be looking at 1635 deaths. Okay, that might seem a little hysterical, but freak accidents happen, like the Selby Rail Crash, and their consequences can be enormous.
Opening that up to pre-1984 cars will increase the number of potentially unchecked cars on the road by at least a factor of 10. And, yes, the pre-1984 car parc in the UK is a tiny percentage of the 30 million cars on the road (for a still-considerable 100,000-plus cars), not imagine for one moment that accidents involving them are not going to happen – and be influenced by the decision their owners have taken as to whether they have a safety check or not. It only takes one un-MoT’d 1980s classic to have brake failure, and plough down a bus queue, to see the classic car world turned on its head, and the wider public screaming for tight controls, restricted use, or worse.
So, please – object to this exemption to pre-1984 any time you get the opportunity. Also, if any extension of the current exemption is mooted, do the same. In fact, we need all cars put back on the MoT system, including the pre-1960s ones, because we as classic car owners need to be as squeaky clean as the rest of the motoring public – just because we have old cars does not earn us a sense of entitlement when it comes to safety and roadworthiness.
But if this ill-conceived law comes to pass, and you do own a car that becomes exempted, please do yourself a favour, and get yourself a Classic Friendly garage to give it a once-yearly MoT-style safety check, it might save your life.