Where next for MOT testing?

Neil looks at the direction of travel on the future of the MOT, and where it might be taking us

Published:  10 April, 2019

The UK Ministry of Transport Roadworthiness test (MOT test to you and I) has been in place since 1960 and has withstood some serious challenges in recent years – both from changes in European legislation that wanted to only allow dedicated test centres that were not directly connected to the repair of a vehicle to conduct the roadworthiness testing, but also from within the UK to try and change the frequency of the existing 3-1-1 test frequency.
    
Thankfully, common sense triumphed in both cases and the UK MOT test soldiers serenely on.
    
The original MOT test was a basic mechanical test and although many other elements have been added over the years, today it still predominately remains focused on the mechanical condition of the vehicle, plus exhaust emissions. However, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin', as Bob Dylan sang four years after the original MOT test was introduced.
    
The future of the MOT test has drawn many diverging views and there are many who champion its continued format and frequency. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who see it as an unnecessary expense for the motorist, as well as being technically obsolete as automated systems and autonomous vehicles impose the mandatory testing  of their functionality. Effectively, in their view, the vehicle safety is self-tested every time it is driven. Somewhere in between are those who simply want to update the test to include an assessment of today’s electronic safety systems.
However, the ‘self-test’ approach is being discussed at the UNECE level in Geneva, both as part of the autonomous vehicle requirements, but separately as how ‘periodic technical inspection’ (PTI) should be conducted. These discussions are not restricted to what the UK does, or even Europe, but includes all those countries who have signed the 1958 UNECE agreement to adopt what is agreed – which includes the UK who signed on 16  March 1963. This all comes under the snappy title of ‘Agreement Concerning the Adoption of Uniform Conditions of Approval and Reciprocal Recognition of Approval for Motor Vehicle Equipment and Parts, done at Geneva on 20 March 1958.‘

There are now discussions to formalise the improvement needed to suit modern complex electronic systems and provide a solid health check for PTI. This may include how a system conducts functional plausibility, performance monitoring and self-healing abilities. This is a long way from today’s visual check of a vehicle! However, for the UK MOT there is also a timing issue to all of this. Although we know that automated systems are being introduced, there are many electronic systems which have been mandatorily fitted to vehicles for many years (e.g. ABS) and have yet to be included in the MOT test as an independent electronic check or functional test. This was the subject of a recent DVSA meeting which questioned what should be included in the future MOT test for systems that are already fitted to today’s vehicles, including how these electronically controlled systems should be tested, but also to consider the cost- benefit analysis to evaluate if there is a greater benefit than the costs involved to implement a specific test requirement. The simple proposal is to use a PTI scan tool connected via the OBD port and communicate with the vehicle and its safety related systems to detect if any faults have been detected. Is this going to provide a better test method and result than observing the malfunction indicator light (MIL) on the vehicle’s dashboard? The answer may be either a ‘yes’, but probably only if a deeper assessment of the system is made, bringing in the ‘cost-benefit’ question of the development of the PTI scan tool software, but also a ‘no’ if it can be shown that the vehicle is effective and accurate in identifying problems itself. However, this is also part of the problem. Where is the independence of the MOT if the vehicle manufacturers can create their own test methods? There is currently an ISO standard being developed that seeks to define what access to what data will be provided by the vehicle during a PTI test and from this, what test method will be possible. However, the data access is controlled through the use of a vehicle manufacturer’s electronic certificate and their intention is to provide the minimum data, probably related to the MIL activation, so this may restrict what test methods can be implemented unless legislation forces greater data access/functional control, which will also be subject to the cost/benefit analysis.

Telematics
Another angle is the ability to use the vehicle’s telematics system to remotely communicate with the vehicle and monitor its status and safety related functionality whenever it is being driven. If a fault is detected, then the vehicle manufacturer is able to assess the seriousness of the fault (effectively ‘advisory’, ‘failure’ or ‘dangerous’) and propose to the vehicle owner that a repair is necessary and direct them accordingly to a workshop of their choice, where the relevant spare parts would also be provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Unfortunately, this may signal one of the real issues here – the vehicle manufacturer is not only able to decide if a fault occurs and know when this happens, but then is also able to propose where it is repaired using their OEM parts. This is not a good scenario for either independent vehicle testing or for the competitive choice of where any MOT failures are repaired.
    
So, although the communication to the vehicle might still be via the OBD connector, the testing of the electronic safety systems may still be controlled by the vehicle manufacturer and subsequently restrict what truly independent testing will still be possible. In the longer term, autonomous and connected vehicles will become much more capable of self-testing, but this still leaves how the choice of their repair being influenced by the vehicle manufacturer who becomes, judge, jury and executioner. If these vehicles are not tested in MOT centres, will the UK government return to enforcing vehicle safety via Traffic Police with the associated cost of police officers in patrol cars? I think not, so where will this leave independent roadworthiness testing and the test centres that conduct these tests?
    
This may well come down to how the use of vehicles changes and the subsequent ‘mobility’ models of who is responsible for the vehicle, but this will also need a change in the law concerning who is responsible for the roadworthiness of a vehicle when it is being driven on the road. As I said at the beginning,  ‘The Times They Are A-Changin'.

xenconsultancy.com

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