STRICTER TESTS FOR SAVING LIVES
THE NEW ROADWORTHINESS PACKAGE FOR MOTOR VEHICLES
The long-awaited “roadworthiness package” announced on 13 July 2012 in the form of a proposal for EU regulation that includes methods and procedures of motor vehicle roadworthiness tests in the EU. Its purpose is to halve the number of deaths caused by accidents throughout the EU by 2020
IT MUST be admitted that the European Commission has acted, albeit with some delay, coherently and with substantial clarity of intent. The long-awaited “roadworthiness package” announced for the end of 2011 and then for 30 June 2012, in the end arrived on 13 July 2012 in the form of a proposal for EU regulation that includes methods and procedures for new motor vehicle road worthiness tests in the EU.
To understand the spirit of the initiative as well as certain conclusions, it should be remembered that the roadworthiness package is the result of a necessity to implement one of the European Commission’s most important and pressing topics: road safety. The purpose, as announced in the white paper on road safety Com(2010) 389, is to halve the number of deaths caused by accidents throughout the EU by 2020. An estimate of the positive outcome of stricter testing (as reported in document SWD (2012) 206) is 1,200 fewer deaths per year, 36,000 fewer accidents per year, and a reduction of about 5.6 billion euros in associated costs for society. It should be emphasized that the major beneficiaries will be young people who are in fact the most vulnerable citizens. The scenario might seem optimistic or even utopian, but if the purpose is to be considered indispensable in an evolved society, it will be helpful to remember the success of the previous “campaign” in the 2001–2011 ten-year period; thanks to it, the number of fatal accidents was reduced by an average of 47% in the EU as a whole. In Italy, fatal accidents were reduced to just under 4,000 a year from almost 8,000 in 2000.
Obviously, this was not due to stricter inspections alone; other tools like speed cameras, average speed checks, licence points, awareness-raising campaigns, improved road conditions, etc., were also effective. The positive side of the Commission’s approach was its handling of the problem as a whole, starting from the political aspect and ending with dictating the actions required at various levels. Which reflects on the fact that all this is coming from European institutions; it would appear that nowadays, unfortunately, the political class in Italy (and elsewhere) is incapable of “flying high”, overwhelmed as it is by the preoccupations of day to day survival.
As we said, roadworthiness testing is considered to be the essential link in the road safety chain, a determining factor for reducing the number and seriousness of accidents. The proposed directive establishes a new set of rules that tend towards adapting roadworthiness testing to reflect the technological progress in vehicles. At the same time, it will be the start of a road that will lead to a “single European space for technical inspections” achieved by harmonizing standards throughout the EU. Come to think of it, it isn’t clear why European citizens can buy and register a vehicle wherever they want, but they can’t have their car inspected wherever they happen to be in the EU; it’s as if road safety were an independent variable in a Europe with different speeds.
The current reference framework for roadworthiness testing is Directive 2009/40/EC and the subsequent 2010/47 and 2010/48; they establish minimum procedures for the periodic technical testing of motor vehicles: cars, buses, coaches, heavy trucks and their trailers. Excluded at EU level are scooters, mopeds and agricultural vehicles. It is worth emphasizing that in this respect, Italy is ahead of its time at European and world level because it has already instituted an inspection system that includes all mopeds, motorcycles, quads and virtually all motor vehicles with 2, 3 or 4 wheels.
From a strictly technical point of view, not many changes have been made, but in our opinion they are significant, mainly because of four aspects. The first is the extension of categories of vehicles subject to periodic testing: two and three wheeled vehicles (already the case in Italy), trailers and category T5 agricultural vehicles, which is new in Italy. The second is the more effective frequency of testing and the move from the current 4-2-2-years with more intelligent risk management. The third significant aspect is the introduction of national electronic registers for vehicle registration and roadworthiness certificates that are standardized at EU level. But in our opinion the most significant and innovative aspect regards roadside inspections; Member States are required to carry out a minimum number in a way that is both intelligent and unobtrusive, with fines for violations.
The proposals in detail
Let’s take a closer look at the proposals.
In addition to extending the classes of vehicles subject to inspection, the change in frequency is also interesting: 4 years after the first registration, then after 2 years and thereafter every year. But if a vehicle has more than 160,000 km on the clock, inspections must be annual. The more a vehicle is at risk of wear, the more often it is inspected.
Also very interesting is the introduction of the mileage reading as “registered legal proof”. The aim of this regulation is to prevent fraud through odometer tampering. Once they are in operation, the national electronic registers will enable inspections to be carried out in any State. If we take a detailed look at what tests will be carried out and how, we will see that there haven’t been many changes; what is important is that new tests have been introduced for suspensions and electronic safety systems like ABS, SRS, etc.. Perhaps the approach could have been more decisive, but perhaps gradualness was dictated by different situations in the various Member States. Roadworthiness testing will be carried out by qualified personnel who have received the appropriate initial and periodic training and who use equipment that meets minimum requirements.
The role assigned to the authorities in each Member State is interesting. We read that “to assure the high quality of testing, Member States are required to set up a quality assurance system that covers the processes of authorization, supervision and withdrawal, suspension or cancellation of the authorization to perform roadworthiness tests”. There’s nothing strange about that in principle, but a lot will have to be done to really guarantee the quality of the tests by putting an end to the manifest and glaring diversities that are still on the agenda.
Deserving of a separate paragraph are the technical roadside inspections, described as supplementary checks. To date, they have applied only to commercial vehicles of over 3.5 tons. The proposal now includes light commercial vehicles under 3.5 tons and their trailers, with the specific inclusion of cargo securing checks for all commercial vehicles. Not only. A considerable step forward has been taken with the definition, not only of what to do but also when and how it should be done, to the extent of requiring annual inspections by Member States “the number of which will be linked to the number of commercial vehicles registered annually”. However, inspections will be neither random nor total; each vehicle will be “profiled for risks based on previous technical inspections“. After the initial check, a more “detailed” roadside inspection may be performed at a mobile inspection unit or a test centre in the “close vicinity”. In short, more checks of high risk vehicles to reduce the burden on the more virtuous. Lastly, it is also interesting to note that the Commission is concerned about the objectivity of such inspections with the harmonization of “the assessment of deficiencies, level of knowledge and skills of inspectors and regular inspection activities”.
When it presented the proposal, the Commission concluded by summarizing some of the simple but significant figures that prompted it: it is a fact that vehicles that are 6 or more years older are involved in a much higher number of accidents caused by technical failure; motorcycle riders are the group with the highest safety risk (8%), with young people representing over 35% of fatalities. The last point is the collection of data during roadworthiness tests: it is an invaluable source of information that should be exchanged by Member States to organize more targeted checks in the future and even “provide for mutual recognition of roadworthiness certificates”.
As we have seen, new improvements are not lacking; some parts of the proposal lay themselves open to criticism, such as trailer inspections, which raise doubts, and the fact that instrument tests on electronically-controlled systems have not been included immediately. The national electronic register, a decisive tool for the foreseen additional improvements, will certainly meet with practical and political problems. Undoubtedly, however, European harmonization must have IT tools, without which the objectives would be illusory. It is pleasing to be able to underline that, here too, Italy is ahead of its time thanks to a completely computerized roadworthiness system that has been in operation for many years and is about to be further updated with the introduction of MCTCNet 2 that will make all inspection operations more reliable.
In the final analysis, we can probably say that the proposal presented by the Commission to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament has succeeded in its purpose of establishing criteria and checks that every State must adopt from now on, which is what was wanted; there is also a vast amount of space for local implementations and they must be managed efficiently if we want European harmonization.
We end with comments about the proposal made by Siim Kallas, EC Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport: "If you are driving a car which is not fit to be on the road, you are a danger to yourself and to everyone else in your car – your family, your friends, your business colleagues. What’s more, you are a danger to all the other road users around you. It’s not complicated: we don’t want these potentially lethal cars on our roads”.