Will the six-month MOT exemption be extended?

Covid Return to work traffic

The government’s “return to normal” Covid narrative is encountering resistance from some ultra-cautious sectors, so is it likely that the current six-month exemption to the MOT Test will be further extended?

They see vehicle repairs as a vital aspect of keeping as many people working as possible, and especially so in the light of Boris Johnson’s plea for those returning to work not to use public transport.

The short answer is ‘probably not’. Although as far as we can gather MOT Testing is only running at between 25% to 30% or so of the normal levels, at no stage has the Government decreed that Testing Stations should be closed.

Above: With the Government urging commuters to avoid public transport, roads will most likely become even more congested than usual – so MOT Testing will become increasingly important. With the current six-month Covid MOT exemption starting in the busy period of March April, and those exemptions expiring in September – October (the second busy MOT period each year) the MOT Scheme could become seriously overstretched.

It is also rumoured that whilst all the directions as to what should happen are being controlled directly via directives from the Prime Minister’s office in Downing Street, that both DVSA and the Department for Transport would like the six-month extension of MOTs to be phased out.

They are looking into ways in which the practicalities of the Test could be changed to enable Testing Stations without either one-person, or automated test lanes to more easily conduct an inspection with the Tester and Assistant maintaining personal distancing of two metres.

The effect of the six-month MOT exemption

From work carried out when the Government were considering going to two-yearly Testing, it is quite easy to calculate what the effect could be if all motorists took advantage of a six-month extended validity to their MOT certificates.

The lowest annual death rate for road accidents in Britain (a few years ago) was about 1,700 – then the second lowest in the world. It has increased slightly in recent years, so could now be about 2,000.

Best estimates have indicated (although the figures are not exact) that the percentage of those deaths caused by vehicle defects is around 3.

That suggests that between 51 and 60 deaths a year are caused by vehicle defects.

Take into account that until last Sunday vehicle use had dropped considerably, increased deaths from all vehicles not being MOT Tested for six months would be about 25 to 30 at most, and probably much lower than half that number. There would also be about 10 times as many people suffering from serious injuries due to road accidents.

However, as compared to the hundreds of deaths a day reported from catching the virus, and the suffering of those hospitalised by it, it puts the situation into much greater perspective.

A cumulative effect

It should be noted, however, that if people got into the habit of not getting their vehicles MOT Tested, then there would be a cumulative effect. The MOT itself is a clear annual prompt for motorists to consider the condition of their cars and vans – and even MOT failures which are not intrinsically dangerous can often create problems in other components which can quickly result in a really dangerous defect which results in catastrophic failure.

Safer Testing

The Testing Stations which have remained open for business have typically operated in a completely safe way with respect to ensuring there is no transmission of the virus. Customers deliver the cars remaining safely distanced from any staff at the Test Station. They can then deposit the keys safely so the Test Station staff can then carefully sanitise the vehicle to keep their staff safe – inspect the vehicle, and then re-sanitise if for the customer to collect, or in many cases deliver it back to the owner’s place of residence, fully sanitised ready for use, and post the keys through the letter box.

From people we have spoken to at Testing Stations, and customers who have used the process, it works very well. 

So if DVSA can devise some tweaks to the Testing Process to enable the inspection process to be even more safe for Testers and their assistants in two-person test lanes, there’s probably no reason why the government shouldn’t allow the system to revert to normality.

This especially as with many driving restrictions now having been lifted, road traffic density is bound to gradually increase and ultimately if public transport becomes more restricted due to limitations on self-distancing, even busier than before.

Future problems

The current situation does, however, create a potential hostage to fortune for the future. Many MOT Testing and vehicle servicing businesses rely on the income from MOT Testing to support their business model, and with the current situation having reduced MOT revenue by up to 80%, such businesses will no longer be viable without Government support and could then fail with potentially catastrophic road safety consequences for motorists.

The problem is that these will be the high-volume test centres which are doing the bulk of Testing annually, and that doesn’t mean the national testing station chains.

The bulk of the 30 million or so MOTs which are normally carried out each year are done by independent businesses, many with high volume drive-through test lanes, where a significant part of their revenue relies on MOT Testing.

If too many of these businesses fail due to the current situation, there could suddenly be insufficient numbers of Testing Stations to provide an adequate service to motorists when things return to normal – especially as that could occur in September when there is normally a huge peak in the number of MOT Test being carried out – now increased further by those vehicles whose MOT expired in late March and early April (another peak period) will by September be coming to the end of their six-month Covid extension.

Problems in Northern Ireland

Mainland Britain could then face a situation like that in Northern Ireland last year when all the Government’s MOT Testing vehicle lifts had to be taken out of service for safety reasons, and although motorists couldn’t get an MOT Test anywhere, police were still taking action against motorists for not having a valid MOT.

DVSA/DfT will have to think very carefully as to how best to phase-in any return to normal MOT Testing rules, especially if it is planned to occur around Autumn this year.

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