WOF changes: Safety remains key issue

Last updated 13:34 29/01/2013

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OPINION: Saving motorists time and money are the two key drivers for the Government's planned changes to the warrant of fitness regime. The minister responsible, Simon Bridges, adds that there will also be a focus on safety. The proof of that will be in the detail, though it will be interesting to see how that might be achieved.

The most common reason private vehicles fail their WOF checks at the moment is faulty tyres. Often, motorists will be told at a six-monthly inspection that they'll probably need to have their car reshod in order to pass the next one.

Many will leave the old tyres on and front up six months down the track, hoping to squeeze another half-year out of them. They do this to postpone having to find replacement costs in the several hundred dollars. That they might be driving an increasingly unsafe vehicle meantime doesn't seem to come into their thinking at all - despite the legal obligation to ensure their vehicle is roadworthy whenever it is on the road.

So, if the Government is hoping to encourage greater individual responsibility and safety awareness, it might be disappointed. No doubt it will accompany the loosened inspection regime with greater demands on the police to keep an eye out for unsafe vehicles. There are more useful things they could be doing with their time. Besides, other than cursory inspections of tyres, brakes and indicators, they are not necessarily well placed for this task.

Under the planned changes, due to kick in before mid-2014, new vehicles will have their first WOF inspection after three years and vehicles registered after the year 2000 will need annual checks. Six-monthly inspections will continue to be required for vehicles older than that.

A spokeswoman for Mr Bridges says there is no intention to roll that date onward at some future date. She says there was a surge of Japanese imports registered around 1996-97, and the changes would cater for them. The new regime had settled on 2000 as a line in the sand, and it was a nice easy date for people to remember.

New Zealand currently is said to have the most frequent vehicle safety inspection regime in the world. Despite that, the number of crashes caused by vehicle faults is on par with elsewhere, and also very rare when compared with other causes.

Besides, the Automobile Association says that 40 per cent of vehicles involved in fatal crashes did not have current WOFs. As with other revenue-raising compliance schemes - dog registration, for example - the lawful majority are caught up time and again, while a rebellious few thumb their noses at authority and the rest of us.

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The Government has a laudable aim of continuing to reduce the annual road toll. Inevitably, New Zealanders will wonder, if quietly, what will be the consequences of a lightened inspection requirement.

There might also be some impact on the vehicle-related service industry. While individual motorists will be happy to save around a dollar a week for a WOF check, plus a half-hour or so, it would be unfortunate if this meant any loss of jobs at a time when the economy needs all the assistance it can get.

- Nelson

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