Reform of the vehicle licensing system is under consideration and one of the main suggestions is to change the Warrant of Fitness rules. Does that make sense?
The Government's Vehicle Licensing Reform discussion document, recently released for public consultation, has already generated great interest.
Understandably, some ask whether reducing the number of Warrant of Fitness inspections would lead to more unsafe vehicles with bald tyres or dodgy brakes.
Changing the Warrant of Fitness inspection frequency is only one piece of the jigsaw. None of the four options outlined suggest frequency changes alone and none suggest removing vehicle inspections altogether. The suggested options are packages of measures designed to make sure vehicles remain safe, while also reducing costs which are around $245 million each year in inspection fees.
The system has been around since the 1930s. This review asks whether, in 2012, we can put in place a more modern system that reflects technological advancements, while ensuring we continue to have safe vehicles on our roads.
A great deal of research has been undertaken by transport officials. While more work needs to be done, traffic crash reports show us that vehicle safety problems detected during Warrant of Fitness inspections contribute to about 2.5 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes, and the sole cause in about 0.5 per cent.
It is not unreasonable to ask if we could use a different approach that targets risk better and more cost-effectively.
Our inspection regime is the most frequent in the OECD. In Australia, the frequency of inspections is less than in New Zealand's system. In a number of states, a safety inspection is only required at change of ownership. Across the board, Australia has better road safety outcomes than we do.
One tool that may have an impact on road safety is an improved or different inspection test. An improved test might be broadly similar to the current test, but better targeted to safety risk and newer technology. It could include suspension testing for older vehicles, enhanced brake testing and a check of advanced safety systems such as electronic stability control.
To prevent unnecessary repair costs being imposed on motorists, we also need to ensure any changes to the current test are justified by safety risk.
Another measure is information and advice for motorists. Currently motorists may rely too much on having a Warrant of Fitness, instead of keeping their vehicles safe and well maintained on an on-going basis. Vehicle owners could be encouraged to maintain their vehicle safety between inspections. Targeted advertising, information and advice could be used to encourage maintenance, especially if focused on high risk faults such as defective tyres, brakes and lights.
Our package of measures suggests road-side enforcement could be better targeted at faults that are the biggest contributors to crashes, such as tyres and lights. Many vehicle systems deteriorate relatively slowly and so suit periodic inspections. Other systems like lighting can fail unpredictably between inspections. Tyres can wear rapidly and beyond safe limits between Warrant of Fitness checks. Compliance activities could be better targeted to parts more likely to fail between inspections.
In Queensland, the Safe Drive initiative sees transport inspectors checking cars during school holiday periods to ensure they are mechanically safe. This road-side enforcement method is also worth exploring.
Greater use of technology to identify vehicles without a Warrant of Fitness, teamed with roadside reminders such as electronic message boards and the improved infringement system, are more tools in the enforcement pack.
Introduced as a package, these enforcement measures could help reduce the number of vehicles without a Warrant of Fitness and so keep the vehicle fleet safer.
All the suggested measures come at a cost and further analysis is needed to pinpoint the most effective to combine with changed inspection frequency. If reform occurs, it will be a package of measures.
I'm very keen to hear the views of the transport industry and motorists.
I urge all drivers with an interest to visit the Vehicle Licensing Reform page at www.transport.govt.nz where there's an opportunity to submit on proposals to improve our certificate of fitness system, annual vehicle licensing (registration) and transport services licensing. Over 14 million transactions are generated annually by these systems.
We are keen to ensure their rationale is still clear and justified.
Simon Bridges is Associate Minister of Transport.