Changes put more onus on drivers

Changes to the country's vehicle inspection system have driven a wedge between the many parties involved.

The changes to warrants (WoF) and certificates (CoF) of fitness are the first part of the Government's wider vehicle licensing reforms.

Improvements to annual vehicle licensing (registration) and transport services licensing are on the agenda for later this year.

The key WoF changes will mean an initial inspection for new cars then annual inspections after vehicles are three years old, annual inspections will be required for vehicles first registered on or after January 1, 2000, and six-monthly inspections for those first registered before January 1, 2000. There will be an emphasis on providing information and education about regular vehicle maintenance, and increased police enforcement.

The Government says the WoF changes - to be in force by July 2014 - will save motorists time and money by reducing unnecessary red tape through overhauling systems which have been in place for decades and no longer match the risks faced. They changes have the support of the New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) and Jevic NZ, which is set to take over Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (Vinz).

But the Motor Trade Association says the new regime will cost industry jobs because of fewer inspections, ultimately cost motorists more and compromise safety. Road safety campaigners echo those concerns, and the police are also concerned about safety as well as resourcing for their increased role.

The rhetoric on both sides of the debate has been ongoing since the Government first mooted the shake-up in May last year, and there have been various claims and counter-claims regarding research into vehicle inspections, defects, crashes and fatalities.

Opinion polls have also shown varied results, but the public has clearly been divided. A total of 4593 submissions on the changes were received last year - and were split 50/50. The submissions' overview by the Ministry of Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency stated those in favour of change said the proposals achieved the right balance between cost savings and safety and would bring New Zealand in line with other countries. Those against the changes said the average motorist lacked the knowledge and equipment to properly maintain a vehicle, and they were concerned about our elderly vehicle fleet and the unsafe nature of New Zealand roads. The submissions' overview stated the MTA's ''Hands off the WoF'' campaign had a significant impact on the total number of submissions received.

The issues have certainly been well thrashed out and now the changes are set to come into effect it seems their success in part may come down to the ever-important mantra of personal responsibility. With reduced warranting required, motorists will need to decide for themselves whether to get their cars serviced more frequently, get checks for individual problems, or learn more about maintaining and checking their vehicles.

Of course, responsible motorists are likely to already do some or all of the above. The motorists who are more likely to cause accidents on our roads are also likely to be those driving unregistered, unwarranted and often unroadworthy vehicles - and the changes will make no difference to that. That is where the role of the police will remain vital. It appears they will receive extra funding for their extra workload. However, taxpayers will, of course, pay for that even if they are saving on compliance costs with reduced warranting, although the costs are likely to be substantially less.

As to the effect the changes will have on road safety, given that reduced safety standards in some industries through the years have resulted in appalling and avoidable tragedies, all parties involved in this debate will surely be united in hoping road users don't end up paying the ultimate price.