Neil Baylis, partner at K&L Gates, takes a look at the proposals for the “Roadworthiness Package”, which is relevant to commercial transport businesses and private vehicle users.

Introduction

In July 2012, the European Commission produced a raft of proposals for new legislation governing the roadworthiness of motor vehicles and trailers. These proposals aim to reduce emissions linked to poor vehicle maintenance, and to save the more than 1200 lives lost each year to accidents caused by technical failure. Studies show that 5% of all accidents occur due to technical defects, totalling 36,000 accidents per year.

The proposals comprise two new regulations covering roadside inspections and periodic roadworthiness tests respectively, and one directive amending vehicle registration procedures.

The three proposals operate to construct a robust framework of interlocking measures that both enhance the definition of roadworthiness and present real threats to non-compliant parties. The proposals have significant implications for vehicle operators, manufacturers and test centres.

Although most of the changes are relevant to private vehicles, some of the changes will also impact on commercial vehicles.

Road users

For road users, the proposals will extend the scope of the existing testing regime (ie the MOT under UK law) to the following new categories: tractors with design speeds in excess of 40kph, light trailers, and “powered two or three wheelers”, ie scooters, motorcycles and motor-tricycles.

The HGV regime will remain largely unchanged, except where noted below.

UK law already imposes roadworthiness tests on scooters, motorcycles and motor-tricycles, therefore this will only be an issue for riders in EU nations without tests that meet the proposed standards. The following nations currently have no tests for motorcycles or scooters: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania. Poland, Latvia and Hungary have no tests for scooters, and will have to introduce them. The UK MOT test for motorcycles already meets the proposed standards, and therefore UK riders will not be affected by the proposals.

For tractors, the new category concerns tractors with a design speed exceeding 40kph. Agricultural motor vehicles, including tractors, are currently exempt from MOT testing. Therefore, farmers and other tractor users may have to face the significant burden of having all tractors with a design speed exceeding 40kph subject to testing. The pricing of such tests is unclear, though the current fee for a two-axle HGV stands at just under £100 per test, which may well be the fee applied to tractors. Such tests would begin one year after vehicle registration, and continue annually thereafter.

For trailers, a new category is to be created for trailers or semi-trailers with a maximum gross weight of up to 3.5t and a design speed exceeding 25kph. The proposals state that the tests will occur four years after the date the trailer was first registered, and then two years after that, and thereafter annually. UK law currently requires semi-trailers and trailers over 1020kg to be tested annually, but the new law will mean smaller trailers, such as those used for horses and livestock as well as for carrying lighter machinery, will also need to be tested. The regime will also require all trailers to be registered. The administrative and financial burden for testing such vehicles would fall particularly heavily on those working in the agricultural and construction sector. Caravans would also fall within this new category, and will therefore require testing.

All road users (private and commercial) should be aware of the possibility of having their vehicle's registration document held by the test centre upon discovery of any so-called “dangerous deficiencies”. These are defined as “deficiencies that constitute a direct and immediate risk to road safety”. The interpretation of this phrase will be carried out by test centres according to standards that would be set out by the Department of Transport. Such standards will not simply be the current grounds for MOT failure, as the legislation also classifies “major deficiencies” (those that may prejudice the safety of the vehicle) and “minor deficiencies” (those that have no significant effect on the safety of the vehicle). Until such dangerous deficiencies are rectified, the new proposals state the vehicle must not be used on publicly accessible roads.

Furthermore, all road users, including commercial operators, would have to retain a copy of their vehicle's roadworthiness certificate within the vehicle itself.

Finally, the proposals state that vehicles of historic interest shall remain exempt from testing under the proposal, so long as such vehicles were manufactured at least 30 years ago, have been maintained by use of replacement parts that reproduce the historic components of the vehicle, have not sustained any change in the technical characteristics of main components (such as engine, brakes, steering or suspension), and have not been changed in their appearance. Modifications to historic vehicles will remove the benefit of the exemption, meaning that historic cars in any condition bar original specification will require testing. This proposal has already attracted criticism and may be amended prior to the proposals coming into force.

Manufacturers

For manufacturers, the roadworthiness proposals confer the need to communicate data with test centres at the level of the Certificate of Conformity, along with data on electronic safety systems, such as ABS, ESC and airbags. Other than these requirements, no extra burdens are placed on manufacturers.

Test centres

For test centres, (including for commercial vehicles) the proposals set minimum training requirements for inspectors and require annual top-up courses. Costs would need to be set aside for mechanics requiring such retraining.

The proposals also state that inspectors (including those carrying out HGV tests) must be “free of all conflicts of interests, in particular as regards economic, personal or family links with the holder of the vehicle registration”. This requirement could place restrictions on the way a test centre operates, particularly for small centres with good, established relationships with local businesses. Concerns have been raised that the proposals place unrealistic obligations for such operators to diversify or even divest their business relationships; as such it remains to be seen whether they will survive the process of scrutiny fully intact.

A further threat to test centres is that they may need to consider expanding their premises as, upon discovery of dangerous deficiencies in vehicles tested, such vehicles “shall not be used on publicly accessible roads”. Storage facilities will therefore need to be relocated and/or investment made in transportation vehicles to move vehicles with dangerous deficiencies onto safe ground.

The proposals refer to the possibility of an EU harmonised data exchange system being set up. A feasibility study will be undertaken on this point. However, if it proceeds it will allow all periodic technical inspection centres access to data at the level of the Certificate of Conformity and the data on electronic safety systems, such as ABS, ESC and airbags. The system would allow the exchange of inspection results between Member States, with enforcement authorities also having access to the data, and obligations to report inspection results placed on PTI centres. Odometer readings are noted as a particular point of interest here, which might be helpful for HGV operators seeking confirmation of a vehicle's mileage. This system would impose a considerable administrative burden on test centres, and require greater co-ordination between manufacturers and governmental agencies.

The proposals will not pass into law until 2014 at the earliest, and will face lengthy debate and lobbying within the EU legislature.

Last reviewed 24 October 2012