Roadworthiness tests – Adrian Galea

February 09, 2018


The European Union has for the past few years taken a lead in promoting road safety and set very ambitious targets – the most important of which is that of reducing by half the number of road fatalities in the union by 2020.

The Valletta Declaration, reached at the end of a two-day conference in March 2017 (an initiative under the Maltese presidency of the EU Council), acknowledges that road safety can only improve through further cooperation between member states, through knowledge-sharing and targeted measures.

As the declaration itself says, road safety requires a multi-faceted approach which relies on the input of several stakeholders and not just by governments.

One initiative, which has remained under the radar for a while, is roadworthiness tests. We have now become accustomed to having our vehicles subjected to periodical vehicle roadworthiness tests (or VRT) for a while, but this test is about to be revamped, and all in the name of better road safety.

The changes to the EU directives which deal with periodic roadworthiness tests for all vehicles and with the roadside inspections of commercial vehicles have been transposed into Maltese law (Traffic Regulation Ordinance, Cap 65) and are to come into effect on May 20, 2018.

While in essence, roadworthiness tests will still be conducted with the same level of frequency to which we are accustomed to (four years since the first registration and once every two years thereafter) and the fees will remain relatively unchanged, this legal infrastructure continues to emphasise the importance of vehicle roadworthiness if road safety is to be upheld.

What is equally interesting to see is that the legislator is also applying a penalty points system for any breaches committed by a VRT ‘operator’ and/or ‘tester’, and therefore sanctions will apply to those who are in breach and/or abuse of the system.

This builds on the momentum of the demerit point system introduced on December 1, 2017.

The most important change introduced is the innovative concept of subjecting a vehicle to another roadworthiness test (in between the usual intervals) if the vehicle was involved in an accident affecting the main safety-related components of the vehicle (which includes wheels, suspension, deformation zones, airbag systems, steering or brakes) and when the safety and environmental systems and components of the vehicle have been altered or modified – Cap 65.15, Articles 18B (a, b).

This requirement applies to every motor vehicle.

Annex 1 of the directive (2014/45/EU) provides an extensive list of items which a roadworthiness test will look into.

A failure in each of the items tested will be categorised into one (or more) type of deficiencies:

The most important change introduced is the innovative concept of subjecting a vehicle to another roadworthiness test, if the vehicle is involved in an accident

Minor (deficiencies which have no significant effect on the safety of the vehicle); major (deficiencies which may compromise vehicle safety); or dangerous (deficiencies which have a direct and immediate risk to road safety or impact on environment).

Section 18E (5) provides more clarity about such classifications. In the case of minor deficiencies only, the test shall be deemed to have been passed and retesting is not required; in the case of major deficiencies, the test shall be deemed to have failed, but the vehicle shall be allowed on the roads for a period not exceeding 16 days within which the vehicle is to be repaired and the vehicle submitted for a re-test.

In the case of dangerous deficiencies, the vehicle shall be deemed to have failed the test and prohibited from further use with immediate effect. The vehicle owner will be informed of such prohibition and the vehicle will only be allowed to be driven to the nearest workshop for such deficiencies to be sorted. The vehicle will still have to resubmited for a test within 16 days.

Where the vehicle is not submitted for a retest within 16 days, the licence authorising the use of  a vehicle shall be suspended until it is considered as roadworthy once again.

Changes such as these would certainly be welcomed by all those who would like to see higher road-safety standards being adopted.

They are another important step towards highlighting the ever-increasing importance of quality body repairs, a subject matter which is in conformity with most of the initiatives undertaken of late by the Malta Insurance Association.

It is likely that those who chose to have their vehicle repaired by a repairer who does not have the necessary skills and equipment to carry out the job up to the required standard, will end up having the vehicle failing the VRT, with all the inconvenience and cost that such a failure will bring.

Needless to say, these changes introduced by the legal notice can only be effective if they are properly enforced, an aspect which sadly leaves much to be desired.

The controls in place need to be seen to be effective as otherwise we risk ending up having unroadworthy vehicles still using our roads.

The process should be thorough as it will take much more than simply informing the vehicle owner of the prohibition of using the vehicle or checking for manipulated odometers.   Although systems have become highly automated, a strong deterrent (which goes beyond slapping a fine) and proper checks need to be in place and applicable to all vehicles to ensure that unsafe vehicles of whatever type or size are actually kept off the road.

Adrian Galea is director general of the Malta Insurance Association.
Times of Malta, February 9, 2018