The Government's plans to extend the MOT exemption to 40 year old vehicles - and possibly those over 30 - has prompted a lot of anger and amazement. On our Twitter campaign @NoToNoMOT moat people express surprise that the Department of Transport is willing to allow some cars to be untested and on our roads.
A minority of classic car fans are pragmatic. Like the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC), they recognise that the proposal is intended to prevent classic cars being taken off the road in response to European Union plans to tighten the roadworthiness regulations.
While I share the shock and disappointment at the proposals, I realise that just saying 'that's silly' doesn't move the argument on. The real issue is the threat to classics remaining on UK roads. Casting aside whether Brexit really makes any action necessary, the Government is planning to do something and, perhaps, even without the EU needs to do something. Modern cars are immensely different from the 'analogue' cars of the 70s and 80s and the MOT is struggling to cope.
If the problem is keeping classic cars on the road, the answer does not have to be exemption. It's a blunt tool to solve a complex problem. Here's what we'd do if we ruled the world - it may not be perfect but we think it would secure the future for owners more safely and intelligently than exemption.
Historic Vehicle Test
Firstly, I don't accept the argument that exempting some cars from road tests is low risk. The fundamental nature of accidents is that they're random, relying on factors that cannot be controlled by individual drivers. While old cars may be used less, they have an identical risk of accident each time they're used as any other vehicle. That's how the laws of probability work.
Secondly, I agree that the MOT test is becoming too complex for old cars and that will only get worse. Without some action certain MOT testers may choose not to cover classics or may retire because the bureaucracy and administration becomes to onerous. This would put the roadworthiness of classic cars at risk and potentially drive them off the road by the back door.
Thirdly, I believe that all cars on the road need an independent test. Without an annual assessment by a trained or experienced technician no car should be on the road. No owner, even with the relevant skills and equipment, should be judge and jury on the safety of their own car.
Fourthly, as a classic car owner I want an independent check on the condition of my cars to protect me. If my cars are involved in an accident I want to know I am not at risk of prosecution for putting an unroadworthy car out there. An independent test passes that responsibility to someone else -
provided I continue to check and maintain my car in between.
So something needs to be done. The clue to the solution, I believe, lies in a now-defunct scheme called Classics Friendly. This well-conceived idea set out an alternative 'roadworthiness' test for
classics. It wasn't a MOT and wasn't intended to be. But it gave owners of pre-1960 exempt vehicles some reassurance that their car was safe. Alongside the current 'voluntary' test it provides a framework for solving the problem.
The UK has an excellent network of classic car workshops. These are generally small, unstructured businesses that provide a good personal service but don't offer the reminders and regular customer engagement that owners of new cars will be used to. This is an opportunity missed. The Government should use this network to develop a classic car road test structured around the needs and usage levels of old cars and utilising the knowledge and experience of this group.
I see no reason why this system needs to be complicated or onerous. Any alternative to exemption would surely be a step forward in the early days. It would also give these workshops the opportunity for regular engagement with customers, in turn bringing them more work. And it would help begin to regulate how this specialist industry operates.
I'm at a loss to understand why the Government favours exemption over a more considered and, frankly, safer alternative. I similarly can't understand why the industry's representative bodies aren't doing the same.
I am concerned about the threat to the longevity of classic cars on our roads. We need action now to address the gradual erosion of our liberties which I suspect may be a natural consequence of rolling back the MOT exemption. We need to operate within the system not outside of it.