Millions of New Zealand motorists are affected by the planned changes to the WoF system. Understandably, the plans have generated a great deal of interest, particularly about vehicle safety.

The planned changes will see annual inspections starting at three years for vehicles first registered on or after 1 January 2000, and six-monthly inspections for vehicles first registered before 1 January 2000, with measures to encourage safe vehicles (new vehicles still receive an initial inspection). The safety measures are information and education for motorists and extra Police enforcement activities.

Here are some answers to the frequently asked questions about the warrant of fitness inspection system and vehicle safety.

Will the changes to the WoF system mean that motorists can no longer rely on the WoF inspection as a check to keep their vehicles safe?

Expert vehicle inspections are important and regular vehicle inspections will still be required under the changed WoF system.

New Zealand has one of the most frequent inspection regimes in the OECD, and other countries with better safety records than ours have lighter inspection requirements.

Vehicle Licensing Reform asked if inspection rigour and frequency, and compliance and enforcement efforts could better match vehicle maintenance practices and the risk of vehicles developing faults. Internationally, we saw vehicle safety being achieved without such frequent inspection, and sometimes using other measures.

Car owners already have to maintain their vehicle in a safe and roadworthy condition at all times. But part of the reform is focused on how motorists might be encouraged to take greater responsibility for their vehicles, especially as there will be fewer mandatory checks.

Targeted advertising, information and advice will be used to encourage maintenance, with particular attention to high risk faults such as defective tyres, brakes and lights.

The other vehicle safety measure will be additional Police enforcement activities, for which the Police will receive an extra $2.5 - $5 million a year to help keep light vehicles safe.

Does the age of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet mean we need more frequent WoF inspections?

New Zealand’s national fleet is, on average, in much better condition today than when the WoF system was first introduced in the 1930s. Vehicle technology is improving all the time. Better rust prevention and manufacturing techniques over the past decade mean that newer cars are safer and more reliable. This is part of the reason that most countries have aging vehicle fleets.

The average age of cars in the NZ national fleet is 13 years, and although it is higher than a number of other countries, this, in itself, does not mean that the current frequency of inspection is justified by the safety risk. While the risk of a crash caused by a vehicle fault does increase with vehicle age, it is still very low for all vehicles and decreasing over time as vehicle quality improves. Any risk can be more cost-effectively countered by using other proven road safety measures, such as education and advice, and additional enforcement activities.

Does the percentage of New Zealand vehicles failing their WoF test mean we should have more frequent WoF inspections than other countries?

Regular vehicle inspections are important which is why they have been kept.

In 2008 and 2009, the initial fail rate for cars was 39.5 percent and 40.6 percent respectively. These fail rates are similar to other jurisdictions, such as the UK which has annual inspections.

Some vehicle-related factors that can contribute to crashes, such as tyre inflation and vehicle loading, will not be picked up in WoF tests. Vehicle owners still need to take personal responsibility for driving a safe vehicle.

Does the fact that only a minority of our roads are rated three star or better mean that our WoF inspections should be more frequent than other counties?

Concerns about how safe our roads are largely relate to how well our roads are suited to the speeds we travel at, our driving behaviours and what happens in the event of a crash rather than how taxing our roads are on vehicles. Vehicle defects make a very small contribution to crashes in New Zealand. All countries have a wide range of road conditions.

What part does vehicle inspection play in road safety?

Periodic inspection of our vehicles by qualified mechanics is an important check that our vehicles comply with safety requirements at a point in time.

While over 97 percent of crashes are caused by factors such as alcohol and speed, vehicle defects can also cause or exacerbate crashes.

Defects can occur at any time between inspections so it is important not to wait for government mandated inspections to check our vehicles. This is why education and communication measures are an important part of the government’s warrant of fitness changes.

Why are vehicles older than 1 January 2000 remaining on six-monthly inspections?

Safety data suggests there is an increase in crashes related to WoF-type defects when vehicles are around 12 years-old. However, the increase is small and is reducing over time as vehicle quality improves. The government is taking a precautionary approach by keeping vehicles older than 1 January 2000 on six-monthly inspections until they leave New Zealand’s vehicle fleet.

What percentage of crashes are due to WoF related defects?

The Vehicle Licensing Reform analysis is based on actual New Zealand crash data and uses the most up-to-date data available. 

In New Zealand, 2.5 percent of fatal and injury crashes, have defects that would be detected by a WoF inspection, such as bald tyres, among the factors causing the crash.  Other contributing factors could be speed, alcohol or loss of control. Only 0.5 percent of all fatal and injury crashes have vehicle factors cited as the sole cause of the crash. Again, these figures come from actual New Zealand crash data.

While the project has taken account of overseas studies, it has used New Zealand data and the most up-to-date research to evaluate the best path of action for New Zealand.

The methodology used in the safety analysis of the WoF part of the Vehicle Licensing Reform has been independently peer reviewed by experts from PriceWaterhouseCooper and Otago University.

Why have education and enforcement measures been included in the warrant of fitness reform options?

Safety modelling suggests that a relaxation in inspection frequency results in a small, potential risk of increased crashes. To make sure this does not happen, the planned WoF reform includes education and enforcement measures, which are proven road safety interventions used in many countries including New Zealand.