SAFETY CHECKS: protecting our cars or their revenue?

SafetyCheck-WorkshopI took my car for its first pre-rego so-called “safety check” this week. It must’ve been so unsafe before that. God knows how it got me to the mechanics’ workshop without killing me and every other road user I encountered along the way – it was clearly a veritable death trap before I was told it wasn’t! Thankfully it only took five minutes for the mechanic to hoist it up, play footsies with the brake pedal, feel up the tyres and look at the lights before its status was restored to that of the safe and roadworthy vehicle I know and love. What a relief – for a moment there I thought it was curtains for the VeeDub!

I spent ten minutes on the phone to book the car in for the so-called “safety check”. It took forty minutes in peak-hour traffic to get to the mechanics, followed by a thirty minute wait for the so-called “safety check” to be done and another thirty minute drive home. That’s 110 minutes of my life that I can’t get back – and all for a five-minute job, the upshot of which was a suitably qualified person establishing exactly what I already knew: that my five-year-old, religiously log book-serviced car was perfectly safe and roadworthy.

Here in the great state of New South Wales, all vehicles over five years old require a so-called “Safety Check”, which must be passed before owners can proceed with the annual renewal of their vehicle’s registration. Transport NSW’s Roads & Maritime Services (I wish they were still just called ‘the RTA’) describes the aforementioned so-called “safety check” thusly:

Safety checks are a basic mechanical inspection, targeting vehicle components that may cause a risk to vehicle occupants and other road users if they are not operating correctly or are excessively worn.

Oddly enough, that’s precisely what I thought my annual log book service was supposed to address and no such concerns were flagged with me when I paid hundreds of dollars for the last one only six months ago.

In the end I paid $35 for what’s arguably little more than a box-ticking exercise. It’s exactly the same so-called “safety check” as the one I paid for six years ago to enable registration of my beaten up, broken down 17-year-old Mitsubishi Magna – a car well past its prime and which, ironically, had its gearbox virtually fall out the bottom of it in the middle of a busy Sydney street only days after passing the so-called “safety check”. This is the same so-called “safety check” I’d have to pay for if I owned a rundown 32-year-old Holden Kingswood last serviced in 1989 and with 450,000km on the clock, or a heavily modified 41-year-old Ford Falcon GTHO with scarcely an original part or panel to speak of.

SafetyCheck-eSafetyPfft! Something about this just doesn’t add up! Did I hear someone say “revenue raising”?

My car hasn’t been modified in any way. I bought it brand new and, even after five years, it’s done less than 50,000km. The worst that’s ever happened to it is a nail in a tyre and a bit of panel damage down one side, which was fully mended by my Insurer’s authorised repairer. Most importantly, it’s been serviced every twelve months since new, as per log-book requirements; if Roads & Maritime Services doesn’t have the technology to be aware of this and to be able to factor it into a dynamic decision – which surely can’t be the case, since they don’t have any trouble finding out about the so-called “safety check” – then they’re doing the driving public of this state a huge disservice.

So tell me, Roads & Maritime Services: which particular components of my five-year-old vehicle, that you so delicately suggest are likely to cause a risk to its occupants and other road users through incorrect operation or being excessively worn, were targeted in this so-called “safety check”? More to the point, how likely is it that they would’ve ceased operating correctly, become inoperative or become excessively worn during the last six months? Exactly what was likely to be so unsafe about my five-year-old recently serviced car?

Because that’s the implicit suggestion, isn’t it? To require a check to establish the safety of a vehicle implies a blanket assumption that all vehicles over five years old must be unsafe. Guilty until proven innocent.

Let me just say, not at all quietly – I did not spend $40,000 for the peace of mind that the perceived quality of a European marque brings with it to be told after only five years that the vehicle is assumed by default to be riddled with safety issues until I pay someone to walk around it for five minutes to tell me that it isn’t!

I already know it isn’t!

Sure, maybe the Queensland model – where safety checks are only legally required when a car changes hands – isn’t necessarily the best option, but surely an alternative that falls somewhere between QLD’s über-lax approach and the bureaucratic overkill of the NSW system could work perfectly to the extent that it needs to – i.e., to ensure that vehicles of a certain age and with no valid record of regular or recent servicing are actually safe and roadworthy, as opposed to just dictating a blanket requirement for yet another expense for NSW motorists.

While I’d be hard-pressed to label the safety check concept as ‘ill-conceived’, it’s certainly the product of another era and well past its ‘Use By’ date. The world has changed, technology has evolved – even the ‘Pink Slip’ certificate that was originally issued after passing a so-called “safety check” has been mostly, if not entirely, replaced by online submission. It’s time the Roads & Maritime Services brains trust – in the unlikely event that one exists – put some serious thought into how they can bring the system kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Or are they more interested in checking the safety of their revenue stream than the safety of our cars?