Every year the DVSA produce key reports about the previous year’s MOT Scheme outcomes – the ‘Effectiveness Report’ and the ‘Compliance Survey’. There is another piece of data – the number of ‘dangerous to drive’ defects, flagged up by MOT Testers over the year. Two other DVSA reports touch on the MOT Scheme; DVSA’s Business Plan, and Annual Report.
These used to be informative, especially about DVSA’s MOT surpluses or deficits. Nowadays however they’re more self-congratulatory propaganda than informative. So using official data, we’re shining our ‘Spotlight’ on what’s really been happening over the year…
This report is about MOT results. 2013/14 was the highest year ever for MOT Tests at over 29 million for all classes, about 80,000 Tests every single day, 365 days of the year!
Most of these were Class 4 Tests at just under 27.5 million, compared with just below 27 million during 2012/13. Surprisingly Class 7 Tests were down last year at just over 600,000 compared to a peak of 608,000 in 2011/12. Whilst motorcycle Tests which dropped to just below a million in 2012/13, recovered last year to within 5,000 of their peak 2011/12 figure.
MOT failure rates
As the table below shows there’s a wide disparity in the initial failure fates amongst the different MOT Test classes.
2013/14 is the first time the Class 7 failure rate has topped 50%. It should, however, be noted that the real failure rate should be higher – (see ‘Compliance Report’ later).
Lighting and Signalling:
As usual ‘lighting and signalling’ was the highest failure item for 2013/14 – but was surprisingly varied across the classes. At 30.9%, Class 7 vehicles had the highest failure rate in this category; whilst motorcycles had the lowest percentage of such failures at just 10.4%. Whilst the figures for vehicle Classes (3&4), and 5 were 19.1% and 17.9% respectively.
Other ‘safety critical’ defects:
Whilst after dark inadequate lighting and signalling is a highly safety critical issue, arguably, taken overall, defects on mechanical systems like brakes, steering and suspension are more likely to have serious road accident outcomes. Here there are some interesting variations across the different types of vehicles Tested.
Brakes are the second most prevalent defect found in motorcycles at 5% of those Tested, the lowest in all of the classes. A matter of some concern, however, is that heavier vehicles are more likely to have a brake defect. For both Class 5 and 7 vehicles it was the second most prevalent defect behind lighting and signalling. 13.1% for Class 5 vehicles, and a staggering 22.6% for Class 7 commercial vehicles. That must be of serious concern. In comparison, in Classes 3&4 (cars and light commercial vehicles), just 10.4% had a brake defect.
The number of suspension defects whilst concerning is no surprise given the increase in road potholes in recent years. For Class 4 vehicles it’s the second highest defect at 12.8% most of which are probably broken springs. For Class 7 vehicles it is at a higher percentage, 15.8%. Strangely though, for Class 5 vehicles many of which have a similar suspension to Class 7 vehicles, only 6.9% fail due to suspension defects – perhaps that’s because they’re more lightly loaded.
Tyre condition is also safety critical, especially on wet roads – (not unknown in Britain!). Whilst these key percentages are lower than for other defects at 7.8% for Class 3&4 vehicles and 7.2% for Class 7, the road safety affect is probably greater with nearly one and a half million tyres found to be defective on Class 3 & 4 vehicles during 2013/14.
Even though the number of Class 7 vehicles MOT Tested is very low compared to Class 3&4 vehicles at just over 600,000, their failure rate at over 50% must be a cause for concern especially as key road safety items like brakes, suspension and tyres have high failure rates. Whilst their higher mileage might explain the higher failure rate, that also means, they’re on the roads for longer, and more likely to cause an accident due to carrying a safety related defects.
Whilst the DVSA have during the past year, mounted a campaign to encourage ‘white van men’ to better maintain their vehicles, these figures show it up as something of a failure. Perhaps there’s a very strong case for these vehicles, and similar ‘heavier’ light commercial vehicles currently in ‘Class 4’ to be MOT Tested every six months.
Testing Stations and DVSA staffing
In this section of the Effectiveness report there’s some interesting information. Have a look at the table:
Whilst over the last three years, DVSA Vehicle Examiner (VE) numbers have fallen by 7%, there are 2% more Testers, and more importantly, 5% more Testing Stations for the remaining VEs to monitor and control. Over the same period, as we saw in the lead article of the last edition of MOT Testing, MOT quality has reached its worst level in five years – not a coincidence we suspect…
It should also be noted that there are surprisingly few ‘other Test Stations’, those operated by local councils and the like, compared to private businesses – just over 200 nationwide, less than 1%.
Given the increase in both Testing Stations and Testers, coupled with the deterioration in MOT quality over the last three years, you might expect disciplinary actions against both Nominated Testers (NTs) and Authorised Examiners (AEs) too. See table above for numbers.
Calculating all ‘disciplinary actions’ added together, and comparing that with the total numbers of Testers and Testing Stations shows a fairly steady 2% per year of all Testers and Authorised Examiners receiving some form of disciplinary action, (from a warning to withdrawal) over each of the three years. When it comes to Tester disqualifications, and AE withdrawals they’re much the same one to the other at about a third of one percent of the total number of each.
The effectiveness report is silent on any action taken by the DVSA to improve Tester performance, or on the number of Testers who had refresher training over the previous year, either as a routine 5 yearly requirement, or forced upon them as a result of disciplinary action.
Roadside checks and prohibitions
Every year the DVSA carry out roadside checks by pulling vehicles over and inspecting key items. Clearly there’s a limit to what they can inspect at the roadside.
The effectiveness report contains their findings for both ‘Light Goods Vehicles’ (LGVs), and ‘Cars’ – although the report itself does not define whether LGVs means only Class 7 vehicles, or also includes similar vehicles, but found in Class 4. First, however we need to understand what the DVSA defines as a ‘Prohibited defect’ – which doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle must be taken off the road then and there. DVSA classify prohibitions as follows:
Category 1: An immediate prohibition including an immediate brake, steering or tyre defect.
Category 2: An immediate prohibition not falling within Category 1.
Category 3: A delayed prohibition including a brake, steering or tyre defect.
Category 4: A delayed prohibition not falling within Category 3.
The offence band relates to the severity of the offence, with band 1 containing the least serious offences and band 5 containing the most serious.
Unfortunately the tables in the Report don’t provide details as to what category of prohibition is referred to, but comparing them with defects discovered during MOTs is interesting.
Comparisons with MOT failure rates
Even given the inevitable constraints of roadside inspections there’s a surprising contrast with MOT Test results. Take tyres for example; 41.2% of vehicles ‘pulled over’ by DVSA’s Vehicle Examiners had a prohibition due to the condition of their tyres.
This contrasts with just 7.7% of MOT failures relating to tyres. Perhaps cars ‘pulled over’ are not chosen at random but targeted by VEs as looking as if they might be in poor condition, which would skew the results. Even so, the difference is very marked.
Another seeming anomaly is that only 3.6% of cars received prohibitions for defective ‘lamps and reflectors – direction indicators’. Compare that with a Class 4 MOT failure rate of 19.1% for ‘lighting and signalling’. Perhaps VEs don’t see most lighting and signalling defects as meriting a ‘prohibition’ during daytime.
For cars the second highest prohibited defect category was ‘Bodywork – Windscreen and Windows’ at 34.1% – yet this category doesn’t even feature in the list of prohibited defects for Light Goods Vehicles – that’s strange!
Finally there’s prohibitions applied to taxis and private hire cars. Just as for cars, tyres are the highest figure at 35.1% – despite the majority of these vehicles being required to have 6 monthly MOT Tests! The second highest category here is ‘Transmission – Un-categorised defects’ – whatever that means, at 8.3%. Even more puzzling is that this category is absent from the ‘prohibition’ results for both Cars and LGVs subjected to roadside inspections.
It is odd that ‘prohibition’ defects don’t fully align with MOT categories – surely better consistency would enable improved comparisons between prohibitions, MOT failures and ‘dangerous to drive defects’ data from which better road safety conclusions could be reached?
Compliance Survey 2013/14
In the lead article of the November edition of MOT Testing we referred to the latest 2013/14 ‘Compliance Survey’, wherein MOT Test error rates were the worst for five years. The Survey, however contains other interesting information about the MOT. To recap; every year DVSA Vehicle Examiners aim to randomly visit 1,800 Test Stations and re-examine recently MOT Tested Class 4 vehicles. Although for reasons not entirely clear, last year they only successfully checked 1,554 such vehicles.
So how did Vehicle Examiners’ findings compare to the original MOT results as found by MOT Testers? Of interest is the ‘real’ failure rate. Whilst the initial failure rate as found by Testers was more or less the same as the 40% national average from the MOT computer at 42.3%, VEs re-checking the same cars recorded a much higher failure rate of 48%.
This is a significant difference – suggesting that Testers were too ‘easy’ on motorists – exploding the myth that Testing Stations fail cars unnecessarily to get more MOT repair work. Over the 27.48 million Class 3&4 Tests last year, 5.7% of vehicles, that’s 1.6 million, received a pass certificate but should have failed the MOT.
Here are the numbers for the last three years:
With acknowledgement to the DVSA
Wrong pass/fail outcome
Obviously, if VEs find a higher failure rate than the Testers who initially examined the vehicles the VEs re-checked, then that suggests there’s lots of wrong pass/fail Test results. These wrong results go both ways, have a look at this table:
With acknowledgement to the DVSA
Altogether the overall pass/fail error rate was 15.2%. But that doesn’t count all errors, especially where VEs agreed the vehicle should have failed, but did not agree with the failure items – one way or another. All told VEs found 471 errors in the 1,554 vehicles re-Tested, 30.3%. – the highest over the last five years.
Biggest MOT Scheme – safest roads…
The British MOT Testing Scheme is the biggest in the world, making a major contribution to road safety, and to Britain’s roads being now the safest in the world, on par with Sweden. That every year almost 30 million vehicles are MOT Tested, by dedicated and predominantly small independent businesses is no mean feat.
In early 2012 the then Secretary of Transport Justine Greening said the MOT error rate was unacceptable. Currently it is worse, which is unsurprising, as absolutely nothing has changed between then and now.
With improved equipment MOT quality could be improved. With more frequent and better training MOT quality could be improved. With more Vehicle Examiners to work with the trade to monitor, control and encourage ‘MOT best practice’ at Test Stations, quality would improve. All of which, of course needs increased funding – at Test stations for better management and equipment investment, and at DVSA for more VEs and Trainers (either in-house or privatised).
But discounting is rife with the MOT even degraded as a marketing ‘give away’ by too many Testing Stations – which the Government then use as an excuse to freeze the fee rather than expressing concern about it as a potential reason for reducing MOT quality.
This de-values a scheme which makes such a significant contribution to saving lives and prevention of serious injuries on the roads.
While this article, originally published in MOT Testing magazine, is based on DVSA’s figures for 2013/14, more recent figures, where available, have been quoted. Broadly, the trends and ratios remain consistent.