The Independent Garage Association (IGA) is opposing a plan to move to biennial MOT testing in Northern Ireland, suggesting it would “inevitably” result in more unsafe vehicles.
Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance trade union, the Association of British Insurers and the British Insurance Brokers Association were among other industry bodies that have opposed the move being explored by Northern Ireland Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon.
An initial survey of 1,224 respondents, found members of the public are in favour, with 85% in favour of introducing biennial testing for private cars
But 89% of those in the automotive industry were against introducing the measure.
IGA chief executive, Stuart James, said: “It is interesting to read that while 85% of individual respondents are in favour of introducing biennial testing for private cars, most did not provide a reason for this support and believe that it would have no impact on road safety.
“The UK Government has proposed changing the period before a car’s first MOT test to four years on two previous occasions, and plans were scrapped both times for being too dangerous.”
James said statistics show that around one in five vehicles currently do not meet minimum safety standards at any one time in NI, adding: “If the time between MOT tests was extended, more unsafe vehicles would inevitably be on the road.
“Safety should always come first and if biennial testing was approved in NI it would set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the UK.”
Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, has stated that there is sufficient evidence to explore the next steps on a move to a biennial testing regime, and work will commence for a public consultation.
She said: “As anticipated, a variety of views were expressed through this consultation exercise and there is clear support for biennial testing for younger private cars.
“Given the high volume of interest and the support for biennial MOT testing, I believe there is sufficient evidence to explore the next steps on a move to a biennial testing regime.
“I have now asked my officials to engage with the main Civil Service Trade Unions and staff and with key stakeholders, including the PSNI, automotive industry and the insurance industry and to commence work for a public consultation. Any move to biennial testing will require new legislation in the new mandate.”
NFDA's privatisation call
In 2020 the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) called for a reform of the MOT regime in Northern Ireland that would allow franchised car retailers to test vehicles in light of a test backlog caused by faulty equipment.
Tests are currently carried out at 15 government-run centres.
NFDA NI today (February 18) once again claimed that the mishandling of MOTs by NI's Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) was exacerbating the existing pressures on the system.
It said that it was "unacceptable" that motorists and dealers alike are having to wait up to five months in order to book an MOT slot, suggesting that dealers could 'complement' and 'support' DVA's work around MOT testing.
Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Roy Beggs (UUP), recently raised the idea of privatised MOT testing in Northern Ireland during a debate in Stormont.
He said: "I think that we have to free the DVA from the restrictions of the public sector, which are what is preventing it from paying the going rate for a mechanic.
"Recently, I was talking to some major vehicle retailers, and I know from them that they would generally advertise a job with a salary of £35,000, so are we surprised that we have difficulty recruiting staff?
"We have to free the DVA from the restrictions of the public sector so that it can get out there and meet the market forces.
"We also have to recognise that there has been no difficulty in Great Britain throughout the period in question. There is no monopoly there. Private garages provide a service, and guess what? They provided that service the whole way through the pandemic."
NFDA chief executive, Sue Robinson, said: "It is encouraging that a number of politicians have recognised the strain on the current system and are considering our proposals.
"Although we agree that the MOT backlog needs to be addressed urgently, shifting away from the 4-1-1 testing regime towards biennial testing would significantly undermine road safety and cause further issues in the long term. NFDA urges the NI Executive to rely on support from the private sector to deal with the MOT backlog."