Here in Britain we still troop around the world with a bit of an Imperial approach to Johnny Foreigner. Look at the silly things they do, we say to ourselves. Observe their illogical laws. How backward! How not very British.
Of course, we have our own roster of looney customs and laws, although in most cases they’re just silly and inconsequential, we think, rather than fundamentally weird, unlike those backward foreign types. Some of us attach bells to our ankles and dance around a pole in May. Others chase a rag smelling of fox wee across a field with a load of dogs and horses. These things are silly but slightly endearing.
So it might come as a bit of a surprised to discover that one of the daftest and most dangerous laws is in place here. Ok, so it originated in Europe, but we agreed to it and applied it without real debate.
I’m referring to the MOT Exemption, which currently applies to all pre-1960 vehicles. This means that anyone who owns and runs a car from this era doesn’t need to MOT it. You’re probably aware of it, since it came into force in 2012, although you probably don’t hear much about it. Now the plan is to extend the exemption to all vehicles over 40 years old, on a rolling basis.
Santa Votes For Christmas
The first wave of exemptions was made law in response to guidance from the EU concerning MOTs, more on which later. It was pushed through by a group of old car-connected politicians called the All Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group (APHVG). If you own a classic car then this Group is your mouthpiece in Parliament and the Lords. The Group is effectively the Parliamentary front for the Federation of British Historic Vehicles Club (FBHVC), which itself represents 500 or so classic car clubs across the UK. These clubs have 250,000 members so, by extension, the Group is quite a powerful lobbying force for classic cars. Although, you might argue, the FBHVC does tend to be disproportionately represented by owners of older cars. A quick look at its website demonstrates the point, plus they exclude cars under 25 years old, which rules out a lot of cars, owners and clubs.
To bring the original 2012 exemption into place the Group had to consult with The People as part of the legislative process. So via the FBHVC they wrote to all 250,000 members and asked them what they thought. Less than 25% replied and, perhaps because Santa always votes for Christmas, they supported the idea. The Group also, apparently, publicised the proposal through the classic car media, although nobody in the classic car media at the time seemed to know much about it. The resulting exemption came as a surprise to a lot of people – although not perhaps the five people who run the Group – and it was universally criticised by the classic car community.
The Argument For Exemption
The argument in favour of MOT exemption runs like this. Old cars don’t get used much, their owners tend to be enthusiasts who care for their cars and old cars are disproportionately under-represented in accident statistics. The exemption’s supporters argue that their goal is to make owning and running classic cars simpler and easier. They say that maintenance, not the MOT test, is the key to safety.
These arguments are used to support an idea that actually originates in changes to the MOT testing procedure. As modern cars advance of course the technological gap between old and new widens. Consequently the MOT has to change to cater for the advances. As it does so the scope of the test has to widen to encompass all vehicles. The pragmatists in the EU, and remarkably there are a few, realise that exempting old cars means the MOT testing procedure no longer needs to cover them, making life for MOT test stations and the task of MOT governance easier.
This is an obviously challenging issue and the extension to a rolling 40 year exemption is clearly aimed at addressing it. Without an exemption, you might reasonably argue, the EU could consider removing older cars from the road, rather than face the cost of legislating for a MOT to cover them. Or the MOT might become so complex and onerous that old cars are effectively excluded from the road.
If those really are the reasons behind the multi-worded organisations’ actions then they’re easier to understand. But they aren’t the reasons that they appear to be giving. And even if they were the reasons then you might argue that there are better and more robust solutions to them than just removing old cars from the legislative equation.
Poppycock, Whatever That Is
The problem with the reasons given by the FBHVC and APHVG is that they are absolute total poppycock. I feel I can say that with some certainty, despite having no idea what a poppycock is, although it’s the sort of language I imagine circulates within the APHVG. It is broadly true that old cars don’t get used much, their owners are enthusiasts and they’re under-represented in accident statistics. But there is a rather fundamental flaw in this argument.
It is also entirely true that it is maintenance not MOTs that keeps cars roadworthy. The MOT is annual so theoretically for 364 days of the year it might not comply.
The trouble is that without an annual inspectiom where is the incentive to maintain to a legal standard? Proponents of the ‘maintenance not MOTs’ argument assume that everyone is assiduous and knowledgeable as they are. The reality is entirely different.
Despite their enthusiasm, most owners are not MOT-standard assessors. They don’t have ramps, inspection pits, emissions equipment and brake test equipment, to name a small part of the paraphernalia of MOT test stations. And old cars are obviously under-represented in accidents because they don’t get used much. But every time an old car does go on the road the risk of an accident is exactly the same as for any other car, arguably greater if it hasn’t been MOT checked.
In My Experience…
I know from bitter experience that the current system is flawed. We buy a lot of cars and also hire pre-1960 cars from clubs and owners for film work. In most cases the pre-1960 cars would never pass a MOT. The most common problem we experience is cracked tyres: old, relatively unworn rubber boots that have perished through age. The owners generally have no idea that they are dangerous, because they’re only checking tread depth. They’re not using their cars much so often they simply haven’t noticed. Or, and I hate to say this, they don’t use them much so they’re prepared to take the risk when they do. A cracked tyre might not seem much, until it explodes at 50 mph and causes an accident. Cracked tyres, I suggest, are just the problem you can see: they’re symptomatic of a wider issue. If cars have to face an annual MOT then the owners are forced to address safety. If they aren’t, well, they aren’t. This isn’t a pop at classic car owners: it’s a comment in human nature, plain and simple.
The problems facing MOT testing need resolved. Old car owners need protected from the risk of being forced off the road and the FBHVC and APHVG may or may not be trying to achieve that by these actions. But the current solution of a blanket exemption is not the answer. Or rather, it isn’t the answer on its own.
If exempting cars is the lesser of two evils then to be effective it must be more nuanced than the current solution. It is not enough to assume that old car owners are diligent, upstanding citizens who ensure their cars are roadworthy. Clearly that is nonsense. Old car owners may all, every man, woman and child, have their hearts in the right place but knowledge and finances generally hold sway. My own experience with film cars proves the current approach is flawed.
A More Intelligent Approach
If the FBHVC and APHVG want this solution to work then they need to be more intelligent in their approach. They need to educate. They need access to equipment to enable them to test their cars. This is not just important for other road users, it is essential for owners. They might not be subject to the same regulations but in the event of an accident their car must be proven to be roadworthy to avoid prosecution and obtain an insurance payout. Without a MOT how can anyone prove this?
The trouble with educating and equipment and all that stuff is that it doesn’t take long before you realise that what you actually need is a regular condition test for old cars. Something like, oh I don’t know, perhaps a MOT.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sure, the existing MOT is having to stretch to accommodate a widening range of cars. But then it always has. The current MOT already excludes cars of certain ages from different parts of the test, depending on the legislation in place when they were built. While evolving this to accommodate more cars may be troublesome and probably expensive, the answer doesn’t seem to be to walk away from the obligation to ensure all cars on the road are safe. This isn’t an option: it’s an infallible rule.
The MOT exists to ensure all cars are safe. It may not be a perfect system but it is the one we’ve got and it does, generally, ensure cars are safe. Enabling some car owners, for reasons not strictly based on sound logic, to take responsibility for this task is flawed. Extending the idea to even more owners is borderline insane.
I only want all cars on the road to be safe. I don’t want anyone driving, driven in or being near an old car to die or be injured by said vintage chariot. I don’t particularly care how we ensure all cars are roadworthy except that we need to. We have a perfectly serviceable system of tests and legislation that delivers that. Messing with it, by exempting a growing group of vehicles, is illogical. If as classic car owners we fear being driven off the roads then exempting ourselves from the rules isn’t the answer: those who claim to represent us should be working to ensure we are included in the legislation rather than cast out in the cold.
Have Your Say
The last time this issue came up it slipped into law largely unnoticed. When I politely questioned the logic with the APHVG and its main man Greg Knight, MP I was soundly slapped down and blocked from communicating with them (so much for democracy). This time we have a chance. If you disagree that cars over 40 years old should be exempted from the MOT test you can do one or both of two things:
Sign the petition:
Write to the FBHVC and APHVG today using the details below. Tell them why and, if you wish, suggest an alternative solution.
At Great Escape Cars we will continue to check and MOT our cars whatever the law changes to.