WOF changes: Losing a lot to save a little

CLIVE MATTHEW-WILSON
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
Warrant of Fitness
An inspector carries out a six-monthly warrant of fitness check. WOFs might soon be put out to every 12 months.

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OPINION: There's a saying about laws and sausages: if you want to enjoy them, don't watch them being made.

The proposed changes to the vehicle licensing laws are a case in point. According to the Government, most of the changes involve stretching out the period between warrants of fitness (WOFs) from six to 12 months.

Sounds good. The government geeks assured us there would be no safety compromises as a result. Beware of geeks bearing gifts.

Despite a glowing endorsement of the Government's plans by the AA (which is the beneficiary of several lucrative government contracts), the best independent research suggests the average motorist will save very little and might lose a lot.

Australian vehicle accident expert Chris Coxon, who co-founded Australia's Ancap crash test programme, says: "The New Zealand Government scientists appear to have deliberately excluded research that didn't support the Government position."

Coxon is not the only one who is concerned. A recent independent report by Australia's Monash University, contradicts many of the claims by the Government and the AA.

The report concluded that extending the WOF period from six to 12 months is likely to increase the road death toll by between 1.3 deaths and 25.6 deaths per year. Monash also predicts injury accidents might increase by between 16 and 325 per year.

The police are similarly concerned. In a government document - obtained by TV3 - the police "expressed some concerns that reducing the frequency of vehicle inspections could create negative road safety outcomes".

"NZ Police also [believes] that mitigating the safety risk through additional enforcement would require additional funding."

The Government's response to the police submission was to announce - on the TV3 show The Nation - that it is considering hiring private police to pull over vehicles at random, even if these vehicles already have a valid WOF.

It gets worse: if the Government has its way, massive trucks might soon be on the road without having had any independent safety inspection at all.

Here are the Government's exact words: "Larger trucking businesses may be well placed to self-certify compliance with certificate of fitness requirements because they carry suitably qualified maintenance staff."

In English, this means the trucking companies might soon be allowed to mark their own exam papers.

The public should be very afraid. Trucks make up just 2.5 per cent of the vehicle fleet but cause 15 per cent of all road deaths. Now, imagine that many of these trucks are driving around with a safety certificate they issued themselves.

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It is reasonable to assume that if the trucking industry is allowed to self-regulate, then the car fleet operators will soon also be allowed to self-regulate.

To make up for the lack of safety inspections at independent testing stations, the Government plans to hire a large private police force to do random safety checks on all vehicles.

This means, instead of commercial operators paying for independent safety inspections, as they do now, the commercial operators will simply let the taxpayer foot the bill for random roadside inspections.

At present, roadside inspections are conducted solely by the police. The public has confidence in the police. It is alarming to think that rent-a-cops on low wages could soon start pulling over perfectly legal vehicles at random.

And, of course, it raises the question: what other police duties does the Government intend to privatise?

What about the claim that motorists will save up to $245 million per year?

The Monash report found: "[changing the period for WOFs from six months to 12 months is] not considered to be cost effective". In other words, there will be little or no saving from the changes. So why is the Government proceeding with them? Simple: they are being driven by the Government's friends in the vehicle industry. As far as the commercial fleet operators are concerned, deregulation simply means more profits.

As far as the public is concerned, deregulation often means disaster. Look at the leaky buildings disaster; the finance company disaster; the Pike River mining disaster.

What's most frightening is that the Government now wants to deregulate road safety as well.

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website dogandlemon.com, is one of New Zealand's most active road safety campaigners.

- The Dominion Post

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