Terry Prone: NCT doesn’t pass the test on its reaction to scissor lift issue

Terry Prone: NCT doesn’t pass the test on its reaction to scissor lift issue
Problems identified at motor test centres in the North led to NCT centres in the Republic suspending the portion of the test that involves examining the vehicle’s underbody.

If you listened to Grant Henderson, the top guy on the radio this week, you would think the NCT has handled their scissor lift problem in exemplary fashion.

Grant Henderson is a Scot variously described as “CEO”, “general manager”, and sometimes as “country manager” of Applus Auto, which relates to the Irish National Accreditation Board, which in turn relates to the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

On radio, he was calmly assured. Once the problem with the lifts had been identified, the NCT lads had sat down and had a good think about what they should do. They decided the MOT guys in the North were all wrong to close the whole thing down for three months.

Much better to get car owners to pitch up with their cars, get the topside examined and certified, and then get them to come back when the lifts were fixed in order to get the undersides of their vehicles looked at.

No problem, I hear you say. No problem if your car has been NCT’d in recent months and passed with distinction.

Big problem if you’re a driver whose car is up against an NCT deadline.

At the very least, Mr Henderson’s confidently advanced system means you’ve to take two half-days off work, not one, in order to attend the test centre for underside scrutiny.

And that’s not factoring in the possibility that your car’s underside might reveal something negative, in which case that’s a day and a half off work.

The theory was that you’d get some class of a bit of paper saying you were grand except for your underside, which might also be grand, but — due to scissor lift issues, hadn’t been looked at.

Assuming a guard stopped you, worried about your roadworthiness, this piece of paper would see you right. Except that, the very next day, a woman told Joe Duffy that the bit of paper she received said her car was failed due to the inability to look underneath it.

In other words, the conditional pass implicit in Grant Henderson’s comments turned into an unconditional fail. Which meant, as far as she was concerned, that to stay on the road, which was essential to her economic survival, she would have to buy a new car. To replace a car that might have nothing at all wrong with it.

You may believe this new car suggestion excessive, but the fact is that driving a car without an NCT is illegal.

The gardaí are reasonable and, if you produced a certificate saying “my vehicle has been found not guilty except for its nether reasons — it is an innocent victim of the NCT lift issue”, would probably accept that.

This problem is what was implied by the NCT folk. It is what sounded cool and groovy at first hearing. It is not what has been delivered.

But, even if it had been delivered, it wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, have worked. The thing is that, just as you can’t be half pregnant, you can’t be half roadworthy.

It’s an either/or situation, and it matters to more than the gardaí. Can driver’s licence testers accept an illegal car to do a driver’s test? Doubtful.

The NCT recommends you pay a private garage to test your car (mechanics charge in the region of €50 for this) then take time off to do a non-NCT NCT, then drive around in a failed car while they fix their machinery, then take time off again to complete your test.

But what if you fail your first half test while the lifts are broken? Will you have to do this half-test, fail it, get that stuff fixed, come back, get another half test, then come back again when the lifts are fixed?

This is a nightmare scenario, despite the CEO of the NCT being happy out that his arduous, costly, environmentally negative, and legally questionable approach is much better than the North’s simpler extension of the existing MOT accreditation.

It’s when you dig down into this event that its management looks even more ropey. This issue (according to the BBC) was spotted in a test centre in Larne in November by the lift manufacturer who supplies both the North and the Republic.

They told the North’s authorities who commenced a full review. If they did not simultaneously inform NCT, that’s amazing and also problematic.

As amazing and problematic as the NCT not knowing of a total review of identical equipment north of the border until nearly three months after that review started, even though, within those three months, the review had revealed widespread cracks in the North’s lifts.

That ignorance is not the fault of the supplier, but suggests an unbelievable paucity of collegial contact and information sharing.

The NCT has become a fact of life, costly and irritating though it may be.

Drivers have been trained into acceptance, and to raise a cheep about it is to risk being assumed not to care about road safety.

This is because the language around vehicle safety has led us to believe that the NCT does vital work. For instance, the RSA told us last year that, in relation to 14 deaths each year, tyres were a contributory factor.

Oh, we might reasonably think in response to this information, isn’t it great that we have the NCT to catch cars with bad tyres and prevent such deaths?

But the word ‘contributory’ is important. Contribution and cause are two very different things. Here’s a direct quote from the RSA to throw some light on it. In 66 crashes in a given year, where the car had ‘bad tyres’, 63 were not actually caused by those tyres.

Here’s how the RSA puts it: “In the majority of the 66 collisions involving defective tyres, it was a combination of tyres and behavioural factors such as the presence of alcohol, drugs, speed, distraction, fatigue factors that led to the final outcome of the collision.”

The tyres are put up at the top of the list, so the logical inference is that they caused the collisions. Logical, but wrong. Very wrong. In those crashes, the driver was high, drunk, speeding or asleep. In addition, their car had shiny tyres. Guess what caused the crash? And guess what the NCT will make no difference to?

The NCT is emotionally appealing. We feel that it’s taking ‘death-traps’ off the road.

In reality, the numbers don’t show that. According to the RSA and the gardaí, the percentage of fatal crashes caused by vehicle defects is .3%. Not three percent. Point three percent.

Bottom line, a careless pedestrian is two thousand percent more likely to cause a fatal collision than a wheel falling off.

Even if you just love the idea of a car test, you won’t find evidence that letting people wait until the lifts are fixed, then doing their test will have any effect on anything. The decision has been made to force people to lose money and time so that a bureaucracy can continue to tick pointless boxes.

More on this topic

85 of country's 106 NCT vehicle lifts found to be in need of repair85 of country's 106 NCT vehicle lifts found to be in need of repair

NCT to resume underbody vehicle inspections at eight more centresNCT to resume underbody vehicle inspections at eight more centres

NCT centres working to resolve issues as matter of 'utmost urgency'NCT centres working to resolve issues as matter of 'utmost urgency'

Insurers 'will not add to inconvenience' of partially suspended NCT testsInsurers 'will not add to inconvenience' of partially suspended NCT tests

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