Editorial: WOF changes strike the right balance

A few simple principles should guide any government regulation. It should have a clearly defined purpose, not be unnecessarily onerous or costly for those who must comply, and it should be adapted as circumstances change.

The present requirement that most vehicles undergo warrant of fitness checks every six months fails many of those tests. It was first imposed in 1937 and it is ridiculous to claim it is still relevant in the 21st century.

There will always be an important public interest in requiring motorists to submit their vehicles for regular safety checks, but the regime has not kept pace with developments in the quality and safety of automobiles. As a result, it imposes unnecessary burdens and costs on motorists who drive modern vehicles that are laden with safety features and far less prone to rust and mechanical faults.

The Government's decision to decrease the frequency with which some motor vehicles must undergo warrant of fitness examinations is recognition of that.

Under Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges' changes, only vehicles that were first registered before January 1, 2000, will still be tested every six months. Vehicles registered after that date, and which are more than three years old, will be tested annually and new cars will have an initial inspection, then not have to be tested again till their fourth year on the road.

Transport Ministry research shows the package will save motorists and businesses $159 million a year.

The changes follow a thorough review of the present system, which included studying the warrant rules in countries comparable to New Zealand. It found that the rate of fatal and injury accidents in which mechanical fault played a part was broadly the same in New Zealand as Britain, where vehicles are tested only once a year.

Warrant of fitness-related defects contribute to 2.5 per cent of such crashes in New Zealand, and are the sole cause in just 0.5 per cent.

The decrease in the frequency of warrant checks will be accompanied by a campaign to educate drivers about the need to keep vehicles regularly maintained. The Government will also provide the police with up to $5m extra for roadside checks.

Predictably, the Motor Trade Association, which represents mechanics, has criticised the plans, claiming they will cost lives and see up to 2000 jobs in the industry lost.

However, the changes are carefully balanced. They remove overly burdensome requirements from many drivers while highlighting their personal responsibility to ensure their vehicles are safe at all times, not just on the day they pass their warrant.

While any job loss is unwelcome, the Government is right to insist that the frequency with which vehicles must be warranted is dictated solely by the need to ensure safety.

That does not mean the changes should not be monitored. There is another basic principle that must always be applied to any government regulation - regular checks to ensure it is working as intended.

The Dominion Post