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DVSA’s MOT Reminder service – Pass or Fail?

DVSA MOT Reminder

DVSA announces streamlined MOT reminder service

In a recent press release the Government’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, (DVSA) gave themselves a pat on the back for having achieved what they suggest is a landmark result of four million motorists having signed up for the Government’s MOT reminder service. At the same time, they announced several new features to improve the scheme. We thought it worthwhile to have a closer look at MOT reminders, and the effect on road safety of motorists who let their vehicles’ test certificates expire, but continue to drive on Britain’s roads…

Check out the DVSA’s MOT Reminder Service here

The Government’s MOT Reminder Scheme

A central aspect of DVSA’s remit from Government is road safety and the MOT Scheme is a key element in DVSA’s work. They set the MOT rules both for motorists, MOT Testers and the testing stations where they are employed. The system works, with Britain’s roads being amongst the safest in the world – yet people still die and get injured due to defective vehicles.

However, according to DVSA, 30 percent of MOT tests are conducted after the vehicle’s previous MOT certificate has expired. That’s about nine million vehicles! Hence DVSA’s keen interest in a reminder scheme, but how effective is it? Do late MOTs really pose a danger, and finally, could more be done to reduce late MOTs and improve road safety?

We discussed this with Neil Barlow, the senior DVSA executive responsible for the Government’s vehicle testing regulations, who had some very interesting comments and ideas to share with us. Firstly, he confirmed that about 30 percent of vehicles have their annual MOT test carried out after the previous MOT has expired, which he considers is a “material issue”, and the numbers shows he’s right – particularly as two thirds of those are more than a week late!”. Yet it gets worse. He said, “we know from Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data that the lion’s share are still being used on the roads.” He went on to add “…and our research shows that many motorists just forget, perhaps because car tax and MOT expiry don’t necessarily happen at the same time”.

He speculated that some motorists are probably short of money, but others just don’t care. Yet perhaps the most relevant comment he made was that DVSA’s research shows that cars having their MOTs after expiry of the previous certificate are much more likely to fail the MOT – posing a definite threat to road safety. He noted, “…by inference they are used in a more unroadworthy state than those tested on time. That means there is a greater risk of an accident and/or their effect on air quality is greater”. He further added, “We’ve traced the effect reminders have had. We have seen that once vehicle owners receive reminders, they are more likely to be on time… we can show that reminders work”.

Addressing the ‘late MOT’ problem

So, helping motorists to get their MOT on time seems to make good sense – not just for garage businesses, but also for road safety. Barlow went on to say, “…we did a lot of research behind our original reminder service – both with garages and the public – and again more recently with the improvements we have made. But we aren’t precious about our service, we are just keen that motorists don’t forget. We make our data available, so other reminder services can be run privately, and potentially include advertising and things we would not be able to do. One way or another, if we can avoid motorists forgetting – that helps everybody”.

What DVSA’s research shows is that whilst an effective reminder service should reduce the number of late MOTs when motorists simply forget the due date – just over 18% of MOTs. But DVSA’s research shows that even if every motorist received a reminder, that still leaves 12%, about three million motorists who are taking a cavalier attitude to their vehicles’ lapsed MOTs and endangering other motorists by using potentially defective vehicles on the roads, and these vehicles are more likely to fail the MOT. Shouldn’t DVSA do something about that?

Here Barlow had some interesting thoughts. Our conversation was just a general discussion about what could be done and various options. Barlow emphasised that these were just some theoretical ways that may need to be considered to improve the situation – which would mean doing more than just sending motorists MOT reminders.

Here are some of the ideas:

Enforcement action: Using ANPR; why not take enforcement action against motorists driving vehicles with lapsed MOTs?

Whilst we see no problem with this, perhaps it could be seen as a ‘war on motorists’. Well, only on recalcitrant motorists potentially driving dangerous vehicles- which would be entirely justified. However, if it is done it would be more acceptable if every motorist had received an official DVSA reminder which had been obviously ignored.

Expiry date: For late MOTs, why not date the expiry of the new MOT to a year after the expiry of the previous certificate?

This seems like a good idea, but the devil would be in the detail, what if the new MOT is over a year late – what then? Or just a month under a year – then its effectively just a fine of the cost of an MOT. An alternative might be to add a penalty cost to late MOTs.

Vehicle software: Longer-term, why not use the car’s software to flag up MOT expiry – let the car tell the motorists?

At first sight another good idea, but it would need legislation to ensure every car’s software had an MOT reminder facility – and every MOT pass would need to be entered into the software and unless the Government had access to the cars’ computers (very unlikely), it would still be up to the motorist to enter the MOT expiry date – which a lot of people would be very reluctant, or unable to do. Or even forget to do it! Good forward thinking, nevertheless.

Increasing reminders

The official MOT Reminder scheme was instigated about five years ago to assist motorists to remember when their vehicle’s MOT certificate expired, and to provide a timely reminder before that date arrived – and it works although somewhat imperfectly. For example, I recently received a reminder for a car which was sold three years ago; and this is one of the difficulties with the scheme that DVSA are, quite rightly, addressing as noted in their recent press release.

Yet whilst DVSA are proud to have four million motorists signed up for their scheme, that’s just a fraction of thirty million MOT tests carried out every year ­– what about the remaining twenty-six million motorists who are not signed up to the Government scheme? Of course, not all these are repeat tests, a minority are for vehicles just reaching their third birthday – but even so, those four million vehicles motorists currently signed up to the DVSA reminder scheme only represents just over 13% of MOT tests each year – meaning that up to twenty-five and a half million motorists don’t get an official Government MOT reminder.

There is, however, another ‘game in town’.

The MOT trade

Altogether there are about 23,000 or so Testing Stations in mainland Britain (Northern Ireland has a different system). Yet not all of them are the same. Some have a test bay mainly to MOT test their own second-hand cars, and for the cars they have sold, and income from other service and repair customers. MOTs are only of secondary importance – many vehicle dealerships fall into this category. On the other hand, smaller private car servicing and MOT Testing businesses see their MOT Test bays as a crucial element in their business model. It brings in income, provides a strong element of customer loyalty, and many customers also have their vehicles serviced at the same time as the MOT Test. It makes good business sense for these businesses, to have their own MOT reminder service, and software companies provide products for that very purpose. Just how many motorists are signed up for these MOT Testing Station’s own MOT reminder service is an unknown quantity, but we would guess that it could be perhaps up to fifteen million motorists – maybe half of all Testing Stations. Yet adding on the DVSA’s reminders still means that perhaps eleven million motorists are not yet signed up to any MOT reminder service.

The vast majority of Testing Stations are commercial businesses (just a few are owned by local authorities or Government organisations), which are both recognised and monitored by the DVSA, and linked directly to the DVSA MOT computer. They are a vital and integrated part of the MOT Scheme, and on the same team as the Civil Servants working within DVSA monitoring and regulating the Scheme in the interest of road safety. So why not create a system so that Testing Stations can offer their customers to sign up to the Government reminder service when having their cars MOT Tested? Now some businesses may not want to do that, but the majority probably would if their businesses’ name was on the reminder – even if it just a footnote saying something like, “last MOT at Hunter’s Garage” for example. MOT Testing Stations are, after all fully integrated into the Government’s MOT Scheme, legally, administratively, and via the MOT computer. It should also be noted that motorists are much more likely to respond to an official Government reminder from the DVSA, rather than a commercial nudge about their MOT Test from the local garage.

A road safety bonus

We put this to the DVSA and Barlow responded, “Of course we could do this at some point, if we had feedback showing it would work both for garages and motorists. But of course, in the meantime there is nothing to stop garages doing their own reminders or lodging motorists’ details with the DVSA reminder service if that is what customers want. The more we can jointly do to help motorists get their MOT on time the better”.

It is very obvious that a comprehensive reminder service wherein all motorist who have their vehicles MOT Tested automatically receive a government reminder would significantly reduce the number of late MOTs where motorists just forget the date. Yet it does seem surprising that DVSA have not yet integrated Testing Stations into the reminder service, a development which would increase the official notifications to motorists to close to one hundred percent and perhaps have a significantly beneficial effect on road safety. Nevertheless, Neil Barlow, the man in charge at DVSA did emphasise that he has not ruled that out in the longer term.

Of equal concern are three million or so motorists who knowingly allow their MOT to lapse and which DVSA know are more likely to fail the MOT inspection yet continue to use their vehicles on the road. Surely, in the interests of road safety and of benefit to the remaining motorists who do keep their MOTs up to date, there should be more MOT enforcement via ANPR technology? Its positive to see the deep research that DVSA have done into understanding lateness – and recognise that the “stick” may well be needed alongside reminders. So perhaps we will see this in future.

We are, however pleased to see that the current DVSA reminder scheme is being improved and streamlined to make the system more flexible and user friendly, and hope that in the not too distant future it will indeed be integrated into the MOT testing system so every MOT issued by testing stations will be accompanied by a reminder for the following year and give both the motoring and general public a road safety bonus into the future.

What’s your view? Readers are invited to add comments and suggestions to this article.

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