First cars to undergo road safety tests today
About 300 vehicles will undergo inspection at centres around the State today when the compulsory national car test finally gets under way.
The Department of the Environment yesterday predicted a slow start to testing, saying it would take some time to "ramp it up" to full capacity. But a spokesman added that the 43 testing centres would between them soon be dealing with more than 1,000 vehicles daily, allowing all cars more than eight years old, of which there are an estimated 450,000, to be tested this year.
Department figures suggest there are still some 15,000 cars in circulation aged 20 years or more. But Mr Robert Molloy, the Minister of State for the Environment, while conceding the tests would be a "fairly dramatic experience" for car-owners, played down their potential for putting vehicles out of commission.
"Cars should have a full service before going for the test, and that ought to highlight any problems. But a lot of the cars that would not have been roadworthy went off the road in the scrappage schemes of recent years," he said.
The failure rate is likely to be high, however. It was 25 per cent in France when the test was introduced there, and the Irish test-franchisee, National Car Testing Service Ltd, has predicted the figure here will be "as high, if not slightly higher".
Pilot testing last year showed that faulty or improperly aligned headlights, excess emissions, inadequate brakes and sub-standard wipers were among the most common problems exposed by the 57-point test.
However, before Christmas the Department said only the more serious faults - for example, lights, brakes, steering, tyres or seat-belts found to be in dangerous condition - would result in certificates of roadworthiness being refused.
Cars eligible for testing are being called in as the anniversary of their first registration approaches. Eligible owners who do not display a certificate will be liable to prosecution from April 1st, and a possible £350 fine. But in any case motor tax offices will not retax eligible cars without an NCT cert.
Next year the tests will be extended to cars aged four years and over. From 2002, retesting of cars will begin, as roadworthiness certificates are valid for a maximum two years. Tests cost £35. Retests, where necessary, cost £19.80, unless a cursory examination (free of charge) is sufficient. Only registered vintage cars and cars based permanently on offshore islands are exempt from the process.
Ireland is a late-comer to compulsory car-testing. The MOT has been a feature of life in Britain and elsewhere for decades.
More information is available from the NCTS website at www.ncts.ie