Any changes to New Zealand's vehicle licensing and inspection system need to take into account the unique nature of our automotive environment says Motor Trade Association (MTA).
Vehicle Licensing Reform is a joint Ministry of Transport and NZ Transport Agency review of annual vehicle licensing (commonly known as registration), warrant of fitness/certificate of fitness and the transport services licensing systems.
Its purpose is to consider opportunities to make each of the systems simpler and more efficient, without compromising safety. And, according to the Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, the reform "has the potential to save millions of dollars in unnecessary costs and time for households, businesses and the government".
While improvements in safety and efficiency would be welcomed by local motorists, MTA cautions that introducing changes simply on the basis that they are being used overseas, may not necessarily provide us with the expected improvements. One size doesn't always fit all situations: the age of our fleet, the state of our roads, and owner attitudes to vehicle compliance and maintenance together create an environment that needs its own unique management.
MTA spokesman Ian Stronach says "We would encourage those considering reforms to proceed carefully, and take our local automotive environment in to account. We are a nation of car owners, but ours is not a particularly modern or well maintained fleet. And on top of this, motorists are clocking up plenty of kilometres on roads that are not always the best."
The average age of national fleets is increasing in many countries around the world; however at around 13 years, New Zealand's fleet is relatively old, and is expected to remain at around this age level until at least 2020. With age comes distance, and overall distance is generally accepted as a proxy for increased wear and tear, vehicle faults and increased vehicle emissions.
The most common year of manufacture of the light vehicles on our roads is currently around 1997 – a time when many vehicles had only modest levels of safety features compared to today's new cars. And, having travelled close to 13,000km a year on average, those same cars, would on average, have clocked up close to 200,000km.
Adding to the risks that come with an aged fleet is the fact that many of the kilometres being travelled by New Zealand drivers each year are on roads considered, by international standards, to be just average or below.
According to the KiwiRAP's (an internationally recognised road assessment programme) Star Ratings system, 61 percent of our rural state highways are rated at 3 Stars (out of 5) or less. Furthermore, 68 percent of the total distance travelled on rural state highways is on 3 Star roads. The KiwiRAP site lists the percentage of our rural highways rated as 5 Star at zero.
Indifferent owner attitudes to vehicle compliance and safety further compound the situation. In a survey of 500 vehicles carried out by MTA last year, nine percent had no current WoF and nine percent also had an expired vehicle licence (registration); of the 75 percent of vehicles that actually had a servicing label attached to their windscreen, 61 percent of those were overdue, with the majority of those late by at least 2,000km and/or three months.
Taken together, these elements suggest that any changes to vehicle licensing and inspection systems will need to be based on proven solutions that will fit the New Zealand automotive environment and provide long-term benefits.