Drivers of Safety: The outdated practice of MOT testing

Economist Alex Hoagland puts the MOT to the test. He finds that mandatory vehicle safety inspections have few safety benefits and that motorists could be up to £250m better off each year if they were scrapped.

Executive Summary:

  • The MOT requires drivers of any vehicle older than 3 years to pay between £30 and £80 annually for vehicle safety inspections, generating over £250 million in yearly revenue for more than 20,000 garages throughout Britain. However, this industry has not been rigorously evaluated for over 20 years.
  • The idea of vehicle safety inspections is an outdated one stemming from widespread use of unsafe vehicles in the 1950s. Over the years, reforms have added burdens to drivers rather than removed them due to an unsubstantiated assumption that inspections increase safety. However, this assumption has proven to be inaccurate.
  • As vehicle technology increases, annual safety inspections are rendered more and more useless. While the MOT has remained essentially unchanged for half a century, improvements in vehicle safety technology have spurred a 55% decline in traffic fatalities over the last 10 years.
  • Mechanical failure accounts for merely 2% of all accidents in the United Kingdom, the same rate as other regions that do not require comparable inspections (for example, the greater portion of the United States). A recent 2018 study performed in the United States shows that discontinuing these inspections has no effect on either the rate or severity of accidents due to mechanical failure.
  • Furthermore, over 65% of accidents in the United Kingdom are due to driver-specific behaviours, such as driving with excessive speed, driving under the influence of alcohol, or forgoing the use of a seat belt while travelling—none of which an annual MOT test can prevent. 
  • If the MOT is not abolished, it should at least be overhauled substantially to place emphasis on driver-specific behaviours, rather than vehicle-specific ones. At a minimum, the age of testable cars ought to be increased and the frequency 2 of inspections reduced.