The technical condition of vehicles deteriorates with use and age, and with poor maintenance. Proposals for improved roadworthiness of motor vehicles along common standards, and through reinforced technical inspections and additional roadside checks, are now under consideration by the European Parliament.
The roadworthiness of a vehicle (suitable condition to operate, in line with technical standards) contributes to road safety as well as to limiting air pollution.
No road vehicle can be registered in the EU for the first time without technical approval (“certificate of conformity”). Once in use, the roadworthiness of a vehicle has to be checked at given intervals through mandatory technical inspections. In addition, large professional vehicles (for goods or passengers) are subject to roadside checks.
The European Commission (EC) considers that there is a clear correlation between severity of accidents and vehicle age, and that empirical evidence shows that the number of serious accidents related to technical failures increases for older vehicles (over six years old). It also indicates that 8% of accidents involving motorcycles are linked to technical defects.
In proposing its “Roadworthiness package“, the EC aims to enhance road safety, and thereby contribute to halving annual road fatalities by 2020 (an objective wholeheartedly endorsed by the EP). These proposals also promote a single European area for technical roadworthiness control, while reducing some administrative burdens.
Periodic roadworthiness tests (PRTs)
Current EU requirements impose PRTs, also known as periodic technical inspections, only for cars and larger vehicles (Directive 2009/40/EC). The EC proposes to extend such checks to motorcycles and mopeds (a fleet of over 34.5 million registered vehicles in 2010, EU-27). The frequency of PRTs for cars (over 238 million in 2010) would also be increased and become annual as from the sixth year (earlier if mileage is over 160 000 km at first PRT at age four). These proposals to widen the scope of target vehicles and increase the frequencies of technical inspections would entail extra PRTs for private cars in 15 Member States (MS), and new or increased PRT requirements for two-wheeled motor vehicles in 22 of 27 MS. In Croatia, these new measures would not require a change in current PRT requirements for private motorists.
Besides additional PRTs, the proposal also seeks to ensure efficient, quality and comparable testing through minimum equipment requirements, qualification and training of inspectors, harmonised assessment of deficiencies, and supervision of private bodies performing tests. PRT results (including mileage data to facilitate the fight against fraud) should be kept in a national register (in view of possible future cross-border use).
Technical roadside inspections (TRSIs)
Directive 2000/30/EC (the latest implementation report on which was published on 24 May 2013) requires MS to perform additional on-the-spot roadside checks for large commercial vehicles. The EC proposes to extend TRSI to light commercial vehicles (under 3.5 tonnes) and their trailers, and to set a minimum number of annual TRSIs based on the number of registered commercial vehicles in each MS. The selection of target vehicles would be based on the risk profile of vehicles and operators. Roadside inspections would be done according to a common procedure (initial check, the outcome of which may lead to more detailed inspection) and would also cover the securing of cargo. Similarly to PRT, harmonised assessment of deficiencies and similar knowledge and skills of inspectors would help to avoid disparate approaches.
Noting that the provisions on minimum requirements for PRTs and TRSIs have led to an uneven situation with a negative impact on road safety and on the internal market, the Commission proposes to repeal the two Directives and to set rules within Regulations.
On 20 December 2012, the Council agreed on a general approach to review rules on PRT. Among its main elements, the Council disagrees on EU-required PRT for motorcycles, mopeds and light trailers. The Council also does not support an increase in PRT frequency for older cars and light commercial vehicles, considering that current rules can be maintained. Member States would however remain free to set increased checks on motor vehicles at national level. In addition, the Council reverts back to a Directive rather than a Regulation to allow MS to take more account of their own particularities.
On 6 June 2013, the Council agreed a general approach on the regime for vehicle registration and on reviewing the rules on roadside technical controls of vehicles. In this latter regard, the Council does not support the proposal to extend TRSI to light commercial vehicles and their trailers, nor to set an annual minimum number of vehicles to be subject to TRSIs. The risk-based system for selecting vehicles should be introduced gradually (within seven years) and inspection of cargo securing would only be optional. As for provisions governing PRT, the Council would also give them the legal form of a Directive.
The European Parliament is due to vote on the reports from the Committee on Transport and Tourism on the roadworthiness package (PRT: rapporteur Werner Kuhn, EPP, Germany / TRSI: rapporteur Olga Sehnalová, S&D, Czech Republic / vehicle registration: rapporteur Vilja Savisaar-Toomast, ALDE, Estonia).
On 30 May 2013, the TRAN committee voted in favour of minimum standards and better harmonisation of periodic roadworthiness testing, risk-based roadside technical inspections (with possibilities for transport enterprises to improve their risk profile through voluntary vehicle checks), and rules on limitations on vehicle registration where road safety so justifies.
While agreeing on the form of Regulations, the Committee rejected the proposal for an extension, at EU level, of mandatory PRT to motorcycles and mopeds, as well as to light trailers (under 2 tonnes, other than caravans). It also rejected the increase of PRT frequencies to annual checks – instead of biannual ones – for cars over six years old, as well as the mileage threshold which would lead to earlier annual checks. This would not prevent some MS having stricter rules at national level.
Varied stakeholder positions were aired at a public hearing in the EP in January 2013. For example, the European Transport Safety Council welcomes these proposals, as a step to upgrade roadworthiness. Representatives of the vehicle testing industry (e.g. CITA) support extending the scope and frequency of PRT. The European motorcycle industry (ACEM) welcomes the principle of applying PRT to two-wheeled motor vehicles, while the European car manufacturing industry (ACEA) is in favour of more harmonisation between MS. However, concerns have been expressed about the burden and costs of increasing PRT, particularly in consideration of accident figures used by the Commission in justifying its proposals. Thus, the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA) challenges the Commission’s statistics on technical failures as the reason for accidents, while the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) – which in particular welcomes the fight against mileage fraud – also calls on the Commission to reconsider the assumed direct link between higher accident risks and older cars (notably because it omits the drivers’ age factor therein). The EP impact assessment unit also questions the robustness of the supporting evidence referred to by the Commission to justify that better and more frequent technical inspection would lead to fewer defects in vehicles, or to link defects in vehicles and accidents, particularly for motorcycles.