In 2012 a MOT exemption was introduced for cars built before 1960. This was hailed as A Good Thing for classic car owners because it would cut red tape.
The exemption was championed by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs and the All Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group. Aside from an effective way to consume a lot of syllables, these groups represent classic car interests at Government level. Their exemption plan was in response to EU proposals to reform the MOT, which could have threatened classic cars. In that sense they won a reprieve for classic car owners.
So pleased were they, presumably, with this sticking it in the eye to The Man that the two organisations decided to push for a wider rolling exemption of all vehicles over 40 years old. As recent news stories indicate, this is likely to happen.
You may wonder why you don't know anything about this proposal, despite it being close to becoming law. I know I do. In 2012, when the original exemption came in, the FBHVC and APPHVG surveyed the former's members. Although only a small percentage actually responded, unsurprisingly they liked the idea. This survey constituted the Consultation phase of the process. If you missed out - and clearly many did - don't bother trying to influence democracy later on. I did and received a rather terse response from APPHVG grandee Greg Knight. Most of the media did too, for whom the exemption plan then and now has been a surprise.
This time around much the same is happening. According to the APPHVG, which is championing the idea, it has nothing to do with them. Ask the Department of Transport. I did. They invited consultation during 2014 via three online surveys. Less than 2,000 people responded. They liked the idea so now it will probably happen.
The Roadworthiness Test
At this point you may wonder what is going on. Why, in an age of motoring safety campaigns, are we letting some cars off the hook? The answer lies in the proposed changes to the MOT being pushed through the EU. Cars are undergoing a technological revolution. Their safety is governed less by mechanics and more by electronics. This puts strain on the MOT system as it tries to cope with a widening range of car safety systems. The EU is therefore proposing a new 'roadworthiness test' that future-proofs the MOT. The trouble is, to create a test that covers all cars is a Herculean task: therefore it serves a lot of interests to exempt older cars and so make the new test simpler and cheaper to police.
The FBHVG and APPHVG have quite rightly tackled this issue head on to protect their members. Something needed to be done, obviously, to avoid the risk of old cars being pushed off the road or deemed unroadworthy under the new legislation. Bravo etc. Old cars, they argued, represent a minimal risk because they aren't used much and their owners are more fastidious than ordinary car owners, who they inferred, need an annual kick up the backside to keep their cars safe.
My problem is that their strategy based around exemption is flawed. Even if you accept the assumption of minimal use and caring owners, the idea that the most inherently risky cars - through age and design - don't need checking but the newest, most advanced ones do seems slightly bizarre. To attempt to solve a problem by simply removing the problem from the equation also doesn't actually solve the equation.
I'm all for democracy: just because I disagree doesn't make me right or that my view should prevail. But this isn't democracy. A limited survey of FBHVC members (who disproportionately own pre-1960 cars) and a hidden online survey of, statistically speaking, nobody, hardly constitutes consultation. Faced with a starkly presented choice between exemption or extinction what would you choose?
Still, you might argue, what does it matter if the idea is right? Fair point. But, I humbly suggest, it isn't. It's madness.
The FBHVC and APPHVG (I really am getting fed up with typing that) have come up with a solution that solves one problem and creates another. It is too simplistic. It relies on too many unproven assumptions.
The Argument In Favour
When I wrote on this subject a couple of weeks ago several people disagreed with me. I argued that we need every car to be MOT'd for safety reasons. They argued that the MOT doesn't guarantee safety, and of course they're right. Maintenance does that. A car can be MOT'd today and be unsafe tomorrow. But, I suggest, that is a different issue: the MOT system may be flawed but exempting some cars from it is hardly a step in the direction of fixing it.
They also argued that MOTs are redundant as drivers can be stopped by the police for having an unroadworthy car and prosecuted. Of course. But name the last time you were stopped by the police for anything? It's hardly a Draconian deterrent.
The FBHVC and APPHVG of course argue that exemption is the lesser of two evils. This is the sort of argument used throughout history to justify all sorts of things. But it is far too simplistic. Exemption may well be the best option, although I'd be surprised if it is, but in isolation, bereft of education and training or any form of monitoring and management it is utterly flawed. And dangerous.
I have my own personal reasons for objecting to the MOT exemption. Obviously I hire out cars. We MOT our cars irrespective of legislation. The same can't be said for the cars we use for filming. And many pre-1960 cars that we are offered are, as a general rule, lethal.
I'm not talking about static props, the barn finds and dishevelled motors that form picturesque backdrops. I'm referring to cars that are actually in daily use by their owners. In one case they feature on posters promoting a major classic car show. These are cars that have been offered to us for filming by their owners as good, reliable and useable classics. Cars that 'don't need' a MOT.
The people who own these cars are not related to Arthur Daley. They're the sort of classic car owners that Greg Knight referred to when he said old car fans tend to be more fastidious about maintenance than car owners generally. They do care. The trouble is that good intentions of caring tend to crumble when faced with a lack of knowledge and money.
I am not exaggerating the state and extent of the cars and problem. In the last six months we have hired in many cars for filming. Only one, a Porsche 356, has actually been roadworthy on arrival. The rest have had innumerable fundamental safety problems ranging from perished tyres to brake faults to non-existent wipers and indicators. In the case of the wipers, not just faulty, actually not present. Or washers, or wiper motor or screen wash bottle. Then there are the mechanical faults, a myriad number of reliability issues typical of under-used cars.
All of these cars were road legal. Had the brakes that failed on me due to a poorly maintained system failed on a road rather than in our yard I may not be writing this. Every cloud etc.
Whether or not the MOT would prevent these problems is not really the main issue. My point is that it is the system we have and it is the one that maintains the status quo. Removing some cars from this system slackens safety regulation on those cars.
If, as the two multi-syllabled organisations argue, exemption is the only option then fine, I accept that. But let's not capitulate wholesale to it: there are many shades of grey between inclusion and exemption and there is a vital role to play for education and training. I am just a humble classic car owner but even I can imagine a system policed by clubs, garages and insurers that would guarantee a minimal standard for all cars.
It may well be true that old car owners care more and maintenance creates safety not MOTs. But my own experience demonstrates that that system alone does not make cars safe. Every car must be subject to an independent safety inspection in order to check its roadworthiness. The MOT system may not be ideal but surely it is better to change that system than to remove it all together?
MOT exemptions are utter lunacy. We will now no longer use any car for filming that doesn't have a valid MOT, whether it needs it or not.