Monday, 18 April 2011

M.O.T. - More Over Taxation?

Right then, today we're going to regurgitate a news story from last week, and in fact for those with a memory for the news, from 2008. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has ordered a review of the current MOT system. For the few without contact with this system, it is there to ensure that cars are legally roadworthy, passing a number of specific tests on various common components in cars; brakes, lights etc. Mr Hammond has ordered a review with a view to trying to alleviate the considerable and growing financial pressures on the British motorist by making said tests less frequent by law.

His justification is that "car technology has come a long way since the 1960s" and they wish to revisit the rules and regulations drawn up from that era to see if they still have "the right balance for MOT testing of modern vehicles." In principle this doesn't seem to be that wacky. Now there are various proposals being investigated, but all with a view to making the compulsory tests less frequent thereby saving the motorist a bit of cash.

The have been catcalls from many directions, which is to be expected; you can't please them all. What might look like a nice way of directly saving the motorist money will apparently also be the ruin of many garages who rely upon conducting MOTs to put food on the table. Ah, the Lord giveth and he taketh away. Also anyone interested in seeing this proposal fall flat on its face (mechanic types, anyone who has 'safety' in their job title, and the Opposition) is screaming blue murder at this reckless suggestion which is apparently tantamount to lining up row upon row of small, cute children and mowing them down with a car in a sort of Grand Theft Auto frenzy.

Now I don't know if changing the rules is a good idea or not, but I do think that a review is worthwhile. What might be useful is some proper research showing road incidents and accidents which were directly or indirectly caused by the un-roadworthiness of vehicles, not just ones involving unroadworthy cars. Then we need to see projections of which parts are likely to become unroadworthy when, and how they might contribute towards accidents. Models have to be run for various lengths of MOT validity and varying ages of cars. There's quite a bit of work there. In all, it is the kind of research one hopes was done when coming up with the first timings for MOTs in the 1960s. When one has done the research you need to work out the pros and the cons, and weigh up which option is the best.

Now that all might sound rather like common sense to you, but I fear this will not happen. This is because of scaremongering idiots misusing statistics, a particular bugbear of mine. Listening to the naysayers on this topic on the radio last week there was much talk of the poor mechanics, but an even greater emphasis on the 30 odd people who will apparently be added to the road death toll if one of (they naturally failed to mention which) the MOT validity extension options were to come into being. Now I don't know where this figure came from, and indeed it may be accurate (though I doubt it), but I take umbrage with the way in which it is used.

It appeared that people seem to think if they point out that one more person dies this way, it is an evil and wrong policy. They misunderstand that almost all Government is about as Mr Hammond says, finding "the right balance". It's up to our elected representatives to work out where that balance sits. Sometimes the cons are financial costs, sometimes human costs, but they all need to be put into the equation, and sometimes, as bad as cons may seem, the pros will outweigh them. Far fewer people would have died if we had let Hitler crack on with his living-room fetish, but on balance, the sacrifice was worth it. Rather extreme example, but the point works for all decisions, no matter how trivial.

If you want to eradicate deaths from road traffic accidents we could enforce a national 5mph speed limit, or maybe just ban all automobiles. The economy might take a bit of a dive though. Balance. We could make MOTs a weekly requirement, or go for the ultra-safe daily option. That would also probably give a great boost to the car repair industry. That said, most of us would all be broke in days. Maybe we'd all stop driving. What then of the economy? Also, with the golden goose of the motorist cut open would the mechanics now find no eggs left as we resort to bicycles and horses? Balance.

That is what annoyed me. I don't like to see idiots on the rampage with crappy headlines and soundbytes. They stop debates that should happen from happening. It may be that 5 or 500 more people die if a policy is enacted, or 5 or 500 garages go under, but if our elected representatives decided it was worth it, then that's what they're there for. If you don't like their reasoning, vote for the other guys next time (and make sure you put the current lot last, because AV is far more about making sure who doesn't get your vote than who does - next post I think).

In case you think I'm taking sides here, I am not. Not only do I not know which way MOT validity should go, but I also do not feel sorry for the Government coming in for stick for proposing nothing more than a sensible review. Being angry at the idiots doling out the abuse does not require me to feel sorry for those receiving it. Why not? Because they should have seen it coming. They did exactly the same to Gordon Brown's Government. The Tories questioned the validity of an almost identical proposal put forward by Labour in December 2008. They questioned, in particular, why the proposal was announced to fanfare of 'saving cash for hard-up motorists' before a feasibility study had been completed. Which is exactly what they've just done themselves.

So all in all, what I'd like you to take away from today's rantings is nothing to do with failing brakes, cracked windscreens or bald tyres. We may be over-testing, we may be under-testing; we may (more by luck than judgement in all likelihood) have it just right. My point is that we should allow sensible debate with genuinely researched arguments behind them. We should not let debate be quashed by some arse grandstanding over some isolated statistic or other. All Government is balance, maybe to an extent all life - this is what logical reasoning depends upon. As Paul Boese said, "we come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance."

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