Wednesday 24 April 2019

Anton Savage: The NCT has much bigger problems than refusing to test smelly cars

An NCT tester refused to test a woman's car because it stank of her three dogs.
An NCT tester refused to test a woman's car because it stank of her three dogs.

Anton Savage

The NCT has been getting a bit of stick this week. One of its testers refused to test a woman's car because it stank of her three dogs, so she rang Liveline and gave voice to her fury.

That led to a plethora of complaints from Joe's listeners about the test, including one who failed the test because his bulbs weren't yellow enough, which led to a fascinating philosophical discussion about how one measures yellowness.

From the NCT's perspective, these complaints are small beans, because the real searing criticism of them this week came from the Road Safety Authority. The RSA did nothing overt or direct. They merely released statistics. Horrifying statistics.

About 10 years ago, when the NCT was in its infancy just finding its little feet, the RSA released their analysis of the contributory factors in fatal crashes. Unsurprisingly, drivers were the biggest contributors.

Somewhat more unexpected was the vehicles themselves played only a tiny, tiny role. The smallest contributors of all. Only 0.7pc of all road deaths in the five years they studied had the vehicle (tyres, brakes and so forth) as a contributor.

It would have been easy at that point to decide there was no point in chasing a factor that caused about one in every 200 road deaths. In part that's what the RSA did, they largely ignored vehicle quality in favour of influencing the things which really kill people - speed, drink, being young and male, and not wearing a seatbelt.

Plus, there was little need for them to target vehicles as the NCT had been introduced - so logic suggested we'd see that 0.7pc reduce to nothing over the coming years.

That did not happen. Vehicle factors as a contributor to road deaths did not decrease. They increased. Massively. The Road Safety Authority told us this week that 12pc of all fatal crashes are contributed to by the state of the vehicles. That's nearly twenty times as many. A 2000% increase. What the hell?

We introduced a car test to address a problem which barely existed, and since that test was introduced, the problem has become epidemic.

How is this possible? We spend a fortune on the NCT - hundreds of millions in direct costs to the motorists and billions in the indirect cost of missed work days.

That might be justifiable if lives were being saved, even if it was a precious few. But according to these numbers, the opposite is happening, we're throwing millions at what was a tiny problem and its growing into a massive one.

We have to hope the RSA has changed its terminology, or how it gathers stats, because if they were right in both reports, the NCT has much, much bigger problems than refusing to test smelly cars.

But if the RSA has changed its methods of reporting, it leaves us with an equally big problem.

In one big report, the authority told us vehicle factors are almost irrelevant. In another big report they told us they were critical. Which is it? And will it stay that way, or will the next report come up with another completely new and utterly contradictory analysis?

Someone needs to talk to Joe.


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