A road vehicle is a highly complex piece of heavy machinery that is used in an environment where a defect, or misuse, can result in serious injury, or death, to the user and to others. This statement should be the starting point for any discussion around vehicle maintenance – cars can be dangerous and must be well maintained and looked after by their owners.
There are around 37 million licensed cars and vans on our roads – a significant number by any reckoning. Government test data shows that just below one in 10 of this category of vehicle failed their initial MOT because of a dangerous defect – a proportion which appears to be broadly consistent over time. This means that there is a shockingly large number of cars and vans, likely more than a million, licensed to drive on our roads and posing an immediate risk to the safety of the driver and other road users, because of a vehicle defect.
Our latest research report, carried out in collaboration with Green Flag, has uncovered gaps in driver knowledge of vehicle maintenance. Around a fifth don’t know how to check brakes, fluids, or tyre tread depth (an admittance of unsafe behaviour), and a fifth state they have knowingly driven an unroadworthy vehicle – which may point us towards an explanation for the high prevalence of vehicle defects at MOT.
We have also sought to explore if there is any variation in behaviour by gender and age to help target remedial measures to the right demographics. Further work to validate our findings would be valued; however, on the basis of the existing data, we can suggest that targeted information provision on vehicle maintenance would be especially valuable for women, whereas measures to discourage unsafe driving practices would be better targeted at men and younger drivers.
The increasing complexity of vehicle technology is certainly playing an important role in improving safety, and this is also the case for vehicle maintenance, with improved on-board diagnostics supporting both drivers and professionals. However, such technology cannot be relied upon to solve the vehicle maintenance challenge, at least in the short-term. The average age of a vehicle in the UK is eight years, highlighting the time lag for the latest technology to penetrate the market and have an impact. Additionally, as technology increases in scope, there is a risk of drivers relying upon it, potentially resulting in the loss of valuable driver knowledge.
We hope our research will help to shine a light on the issue of vehicle maintenance. At a minimum, we must improve communication to drivers on their duties as a road user. On average, there is more than one death or serious injury on UK roads every day due to a vehicle defect. We must do all we can to minimise this tragic figure.