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National Car Test

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 11 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Questions (2)

Dessie Ellis


2. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to investigate the efficiency and effectiveness of the current national car test system and the operation of that system given the high failure rates, the long waiting lists for motorists to have their cars tested, and the regular need for retesting of cars over minor issues. [39558/15]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

What are the Minister's plans to investigate the efficiency and effectiveness of the NCT system and the operator of that system given high failure rates, long waiting lists for motorists to have their cars tested and the regular need for retesting of cars over minor issues.

The Road Safety Authority, RSA, has statutory responsibility for the delivery of the NCT. The contract the RSA has in place with Applus+ to carry out the NCT requires that specific standards in a number of areas be met, including customer waiting times, customer satisfaction and test integrity. I understand this contract sets out specific penalties for not meeting performance requirements which the RSA continually monitors.

Both the testing system and vehicle inspectors are subject to a stringent audit system.  All test centres frequently receive unannounced visits and vehicle inspectors are observed undertaking tests and check tests, which involve vehicles just tested being immediately re-inspected. These show that over 99% of tests are correctly assessed.

The NCTS is currently providing a seven-day-a-week service with late openings at least three days a week to 10 p.m. at all centres. Twenty-four hour testing is provided at Northpoint and Deansgrange centres in Dublin. A third shift is in place at Enniscorthy, Ballina, Galway, Kells and Drogheda which provides testing from 7 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. four days per week.

I am informed that the average waiting time for a full test during October was 9.25 days. Retests requiring the use of test equipment are facilitated within three days and visual retests are available without appointment.  There is currently no backlog at the NCTS.

The NCTS is planning to increase testing facilities further with the provision of new test centres at a number of locations due to come into operation in the first half of 2016.  A total of 588 vehicle inspectors are employed and a further 26 will be available at the start of next year, the highest total number in the history of the NCT.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Regarding retests, only road safety related fail items require retesting.  The main fail items in 2014 were suspension, tyre condition, brakes, stop lamps and headlamp aim.  These are not minor items and it is in the interest of road safety that such items are working correctly.  Retests not requiring the use of a test lane are provided free of charge and without appointment.

High failure rates and an apparently high number of retests have been brought to my attention. A discrepancy seems to exist in that pass rates are far higher in some areas than in others. Although the Minister says that waiting lists are down to a certain level, it seems that people are booking many months in advance and still have to wait a long time. There is a danger of a fine if their car is stopped or a Garda looks at their car for any reason.

Some incidences of failure involve things like a tester refusing to test a car because it contains dog hairs and a damaged bulb, which can be replaced fairly quickly. When a car is retested, half the rate is charged. Some of the retesting is over the top.

In respect of some of the items that can cause a car to fail the NCT, I would respectfully say to the Deputy that a bulb that is not working, which can in turn cause an indicator or light not to work, is not a minor item. It might feel like one now but as we can see with the nights getting longer and the days getting wetter, having indicators and lamps that work is a very important part of keeping a car prepared and safe. I am sure the Deputy agrees with me on this point.

I dealt with the time involved in testing about a year ago. I am aware that we hear about people who go to book a test and the length of time involved in waiting for that test. Against that, I would say that the average waiting time for such a test is improving at 9.25 days. I hope it gives people the possibility of having their cars tested in a reasonably prompt fashion.

I urge anybody who is due a test next January, February or March to book the test as soon as possible because this matter does develop at this time of the year every year. I remind the House that a person can get their car tested three months early without having to change the date after that. This is another change that has been introduced to try to moderate the demand for these tests, all of which have the objective of trying to make cars and thereby our roads safer.

Sometimes one gets the impression that on occasion cars are failed and owners are forced to come back for revenue reasons. I am not saying that this always happens. I would consider a bulb that is not working to be a serious matter but a person can go from A to B on the way to a test centre and something can happen to cause a bulb not to work. I do not see why the charge should be so high and this is an area where people are being penalised. I dealt with a case where a tester would not entertain the car because there were a few dog hairs in it. This is a bit much and needs to be looked at.

I know we are dealing with a private company and Applus+ has a contract with the RSA but it is a pity that much of this money is not going back into road safety, which is where it should be going.

I have concerns about this process, including the speeding up of the test, which the company says is an efficiency measure but could lead to further health and safety issues.

One of the causes of this is the decision I made over a year ago to include the NCT in the fixed charge system. I did this following advice I received and based on my own judgment that the quality and safety of cars and their roadworthiness continued to be a factor in our roads not being as safe as we would like. The statistics in regard to what has happened since that change was made indicate, I would contend, that it was the right change to make. For example, the number of NCT tests carried out this year to date has increased by 11% on what they were a year ago. This is on the back of last year being the highest year on record in relation to the number of vehicles on which an NCT test was carried out. While we did not increase the penalty so to speak in relation to the inclusion of the NCT into the fixed charge system we did change the nature of the penalty such that it is now a sanction that can be more easily applied. This has led to more people having their cars tested, leading, in turn, to increased road safety.

On the Deputy's point regarding dog hairs in a car, I cannot comment on any individual case but I would hope that the inspectors would inspect cars in nearly all circumstances given the importance of doing so from a road safety point of view. I draw the Deputy's attention to the independent appeals board operated by the AA on behalf of the Road Safety Authority, which is independent of my Department and the RSA, to which his constituent's concerns in regard to his or her treatment can be addressed.