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Motorists are key players in roadworthiness

24 July 2013: 

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has reminded motorists that modern vehicles are capable of high standards of safety beyond the level required for a roadworthiness certificate, and that the motorist is responsible for maintaining these standards. The AA's comments come in the wake of draft regulations published for comment by the Department of Transport, in which it is proposed that vehicles over ten years old must pass a roadworthiness test every two years.

“We support the proposed regulation which brings South Africa into line with other countries with advanced motoring infrastructure where periodic vehicle testing is required,” said the AA. “However, motorists should be aware that a vehicle that passes the roadworthiness test might still not be achieving the standards of safety of which it's capable.”

The roadworthy test is an investigation of basic safety requirements to which all vehicles should conform. It ensures that the major suspension and driveline components are sound and that the vehicle is generally compliant with traffic law. A vehicle that passes the roadworthiness test is regarded as being safe to use on public roads. 

However, the test has certain limitations. Firstly, it is unable to guarantee continued roadworthiness. Shock absorbers which have covered 80,000 km may still be able to pass the roadworthiness test, but will be nearing the end of their lives, and it is the motorist's responsibility to replace them timeously to ensure continued safety. Secondly, the test is confined to the basics, because it would not be practical or cost-effective to conduct in-depth tests of every single component. For example, rubber brake hoses deteriorate over the years, and may not be able to withstand the pressure of emergency braking after 15 to 20 years. But it is impractical for testing officials to dismantle and pressure-test each braking system component. The responsibility for these kinds of maintenance tasks is left to the motorist.

Finally, many vehicles are equipped with safety systems like ABS, stability control and airbags, not to mention other more advanced technologies like infra-red night vision cameras and lane departure warnings. The roadworthiness test is not required to ensure that all these technologies are functional, meaning that a vehicle with faults in these systems may be technically roadworthy but isn't providing the level of safety of which it is capable.

“The onus is increasingly falling on the motorist to maintain the safety capabilities of modern vehicles,” said the AA. “The roadworthiness test should be regarded in the same way we regard a Matric certificate: an acceptable minimum standard which can be improved on. By ensuring we keep the safety systems of modern vehicles operational as they get older, we will be helping uphold both the letter and the spirit of roadworthiness laws,” they concluded.

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Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
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