New look at the safety net...and how we'll pay for it

By Alastair Sloane

Most Kiwis see the warrant check as a way of avoiding unpleasant roadside experiences. Photo / Duncan Brown
Most Kiwis see the warrant check as a way of avoiding unpleasant roadside experiences. Photo / Duncan Brown

New Zealanders get more than 1.2 million vehicle inspections every year from Vehicle Testing New Zealand stations which, it says, supports findings that vehicle safety is at the top of drivers' minds.

VTNZ chief executive Mike Walsh said the result of a recent Motor Trade Association survey was an "overwhelming vote of confidence in the value and importance of New Zealand's current vehicle safety testing regime".

The survey of 1000 drivers found 98 per cent believed the warrant of fitness was a valuable safety check.

"It's no surprise, given that we have one of the oldest car fleets in the world - with an average age of 13 years - half of which require some work or repair before they can get a WoF," said Walsh.

The Government is looking at ways to lower the annual compliance costs of transport licensing - the warrant of fitness, vehicle registration, and the certificate of fitness.

The Ministry of Transport and NZ Transport Agency are meeting transport groups to find ways to streamline the system.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has said the reform could save millions of dollars in "unnecessary costs and time for households, businesses and the government".

The WoF system is almost certain to be changed under the review. The need for a WoF on new cars is expected to be scrapped. New cars would first be checked two years after being sold, followed by inspections at four and six years.

Thereafter they would be required to have a yearly WoF. The current six-monthly WoF on cars more than six years old could be changed to annually.

Walsh said New Zealanders saw the present WoF inspection as a convenient and affordable way to make sure their vehicle is safe.

"For around $50, motorists can buy an 80-point safety inspection. The most common reasons cars fail an inspection are lights and tyres which affect all cars, new and old alike.

"They're also the faults most commonly implicated in vehicle accidents. The next most common are steering or suspension, brakes and glazing or wipers.

"Ultimately, regular warrants reduce the social and economic costs of vehicles that experience failure of key safety components."

"It's little wonder the European Union is looking at moving to more frequent vehicle inspections, and US authorities are looking to make vehicle inspections like ours mandatory as a way of improving road safety."

In a survey of 500 vehicles last year, the MTA said, nine per cent didn't have current WoFs and nine per cent also had expired registration.

Of the 75 per cent of vehicles with a WoF, 61 per cent were overdue, most by at least 2000km and/or three months.

Taken together, says the MTA, these elements suggest that any changes to vehicle licensing systems need to be based on proven solutions that will fit the New Zealand automotive environment.

The MTA wants the vehicle registration fee added to the price of fuel. Doing so would save the Government millions of dollars in paper work, it says.

It would also remove the burden on courts handling the roughly 250,000 offence notices - many of which go uncollected - issued each year against unlicensed vehicles.

MTA spokesman Ian Stronach said including licensing fees at the pump would mean that drivers couldn't avoid the costs of licensing and the need for an expensive label system could be eliminated.

"It would be fairer to all road users with everyone paying in proportion to their use of the roads," he said.

"If they use fuel then they are automatically contributing to the costs of the system. It's a simple solution."

Motorists now need to register their vehicles every three, six or 12 months. Private car owners have to pay $77.68, $147.68, or $287.75.

The fees help pay for projects and services such as roads and public transport, vehicle safety programmes, and the Accident Compensation Committee's motor vehicle levy, which takes the biggest slice.

A private owner of a petrol-powered car pays an annual ACC levy of $198.46; a diesel car owner pays $311.38 - on top of the road user charge for such cars of around $45 for every 1000km covered.

The MTA says paying the registration fee at the pump would better reflect both the amount of wear to the roads and the safety risks a driver faces.

Potential savings, it says, include cutting the annual $39 million cost of managing the National Vehicle Register, as both vehicle and ownership details would be validated at the time of a WoF inspection.

Possible changes to the licensing system have brought a mixed response from Driven readers.

Steve: I live in Brisbane and here, unless you are buying or selling, there is no warrant of fitness. You are personally responsible for the roadworthiness of your vehicle, and the police perform a "roadworthy" check if you get stopped. You get ticketed for any and all infringements, which is what drives you to look after the car. Registration is more as it includes insurance. I paid A$450 for six months for a 2003 Commodore.

Alfred: Which spin doctor came up with this "survey"? New Zealand has many new cars on the road compared with 25 years ago. Germany has a warrant of fitness every two years and the cars are often driven at 250km/h plus. It is just another money-making machine. What we need are better roads and a zero alcohol and drug limit.

Tim: I think there is a major flaw in the research put forward by the MTA and that is to do with the average age of cars on our roads. (I'll ignore the obvious conflict of interest in that MTA members stand to lose income should the WoF frequency be changed.) The proposals are not solely about a shift to 12-month WoF checks, they are also about a more stringent test, so no wonder owners of older cars don't like the idea. The average age of cars on our roads is 13 years. With vehicles of that age there will be a far higher failure rate and more cost for their owners. A proper exhaust gas test would put many older cars off the road.

Graeme: What a simple solution (adding the registration fee to the price of fuel). If you are a pensioner who uses their car once a week to go to the shops you pay the same as some one who is travelling a thousand kilometres a week. I had a car stolen a week after paying my annual registration. I tried to get my money back from NZTA as 90 per cent of it is an ACC premium. But its answer was no number plate, no refund. On toll roads, as we move to a user pays model, we need an E-Tag system.

- NZ Herald

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