Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a tad nervy about government plans to loosen motor vehicle compliance regulations? Yes, fair enough; easing the current WOF regime from a six-monthly check to an annual once-over might offer savings in the short-term but the longer view? Less safety oversight? It's hard to see how that could make driving on New Zealand's already-dodgy roads anything but a little more dangerous.
You may have heard the story. Evidently alarmed that Kiwis are saddled with some of the strictest WOF measures in the OECD, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee is proposing changes to the present system of six-monthly check-ups for all cars other than those less than six years old (in which case it's an annual inspection). Among the more worrying options is a proposal for a three-year dispensation for new cars and a yearly check thereafter.
Let's be fair. Brownlee's correct about our relatively strict compliance regime. Australian regulations differ from state to state but typically demand inspection only upon change of registration. Britain opts for annual check-ups for cars three years old or more; Germany has a two year amnesty for new cars and a 24-month check thereafter. The US? Depending on the state, the law varies between our own tough measures and Aussie's she'll-be-right approach.
So yes, the onus on road safety here is high. Still, you'd think that would be a good thing, wouldn't you? At the very least, consistent? We've been spending decades, not to mention millions of dollars, on efforts to make driving safer, after all. Newspapers rush to highlight road accidents on front pages. Police justify covert tactics on the need to stamp out speeding and drink-driving. We're reminded of our road toll on a weekly basis.
Which is another way of saying: it's hard to reconcile the logic of Brownlee's stance with our near obsession to make driving less dangerous. It doesn't make sense. And anyway, as it happens, there seems to be some good, Kiwicentric reasons to err on the side of caution. Our road network, for starters is an unforgiving, at times treacherous, shambles. Our national fleet of cars, in terms of international comparisons, is old and vulnerable.
Relaxing compliance, rather than trying to make it even more effective, must lead to more unsafe vehicles on New Zealand roads. Let's not bullshit ourselves about this. Tyres will become more worn, brakes more tired and suspension systems less reliable. Small problems will be allowed to grow into major defects. You can tut-tut all you like about the need for personal responsibility but that won't change the reality. There will be more death traps on our roads.
It just doesn't add up. I mean, here's our Government, making this massive din about road safety for most of its tenure; playing every populist card in its hand. Minimum driver age? Check. Stricter blood-alcohol restrictions for young drivers? Check. Changing the right-hand turn rule? Ditto. Strewth, our Minister of Justice is nicknamed after her boy racer crusade. And yet, here's an idea. Why don't we... change things and make driving more dangerous?
The bloke who brought us the Dog & Lemon Guide, Clive Matthew-Wilson, reckons this is nothing less than the Government selling off our road transport legislation to lobbyists from the motor vehicle industry. There was a time, not that long ago, either, when we would've all laughed at that. Talk about a conspiracy theory. But these days? With the Warner Bros'-employment legislation trade-off still ringing in our ears? With the Sky City-gambling laws betrayal ongoing?
You wouldn't know what to think.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.
- © Fairfax NZ News