The scary reason we’re never driving through the Waikato again

Not long ago, I was sitting on a small regional plane beside a person who was scared of flying. I found myself spouting the classic, pretty painful cliche line that any semi-analytical dad might be caught saying before taking off: “What’s there to worry about? Statistically, you’re more likely to be in a car crash than a plane crash, and you never worry about jumping in the car right?” Well, I had a bit of a reality check on that the other week.

Now, I’m certainly not the over-cautious type; frequently found sitting on a small, marginally ocean-worthy vessel in the middle of the Hauraki or in a home-built racecar rocketing past fence posts, however, we need to take a step back and ask if we are truly safe on our roads.

The MTA recently released its annual report on the vehicle servicing industry (something relatively top of mind for me) and the warrant of fitness failure rates stand out like a sore thumb. Across the country, these are now at 41%! That’s getting close to half of our cars (1,886,104 in fact) that when checked whether they should be on the road, shouldn’t be!! Now, while I might understand the condition of my own car and be happy getting into it, I’m certainly not happy knowing that the driver of every second car coming at me at 100kph might not be able to stop, steer or see properly!

So I decided to dig a little deeper and it only gets worse. Our WoF failure rates have been skyrocketing over the last few years, growing 17% since 2013. The most recent step change has come due to 2 main reasons that I can see:

  1. A shift to a longer required cadence of WoFs, meaning vehicles are checked less regularly, and
  2. A crackdown on sketchy WoF providers, meaning that less blind eyes are being turned to ‘mates’ who might drop off a few beers to pass your car.
NZ WoF Failure rates 2013 – 2019

Now whilst the latter is a good thing, the former carries huge repercussions. In a society that is getting less practical and vehicles are becoming more complex, people really have no idea what is going on in their car. But in this age of convenience, people expect their car to work and don’t take any further steps to take care of it. With the WoF cadence pushed out, it means cars are left to wear and tear longer, without any extra care or checks.

If you take a look at why vehicles are failing, it’s the big things, that don’t just affect you but are likely to cause a crash with others involved. In typical 80/20 fashion, the top 4 categories make up 70% of fails:

Causes of WoF failure rates in 2019

These drivers can’t see, stop or turn properly! And it turns out it’s not helping our road fatality rates either. A beautiful trend of reductions in road-related fatalities seemed to stop in 2013 and started to head in the other direction.

And there is a couple of scary pieces to this as you go even deeper:

  1. It’s not because our population is growing or we have more cars on our roads. Our fatality rate per vehicle and per person in NZ is in fact now increasing faster than our population growth.

2. Is it pure coincidence, or is it very nerve-racking that the region with the consistently highest WoF failure rates is also the one with the highest road toll?

Now I love my friends down in the Waikato, but this isn’t one to be proud of. 47% of vehicles fail their WoF in the Waikato each year, AND they also have had the highest road toll for 6 of the last 7 years.

And whilst currently minor, one of the fastest-growing causes of road fatalities is, yip, you guessed it, ‘Fatality due to vehicle factors’ which has almost doubled from 5.5% of all fatalities in 2015 to closer to 9% in 2019.

Now I can understand why people are turning a blind eye to this stuff. It’s a pain to navigate the logistics of not having your car for a day, and it’s expensive. If we take a look at the AA’s latest report on running costs of a standard petrol engined medium-sized car, you’re looking down the barrel of $1300+ per year in servicing, tyres and repairs. Bet you didn’t account for that when your freshly imported second hand Mazda Alexa (the highest imported second-hand model to NZ) rolled off the boat.

AA Running Cost Report for petrol-driven cars.

The fact is, people are irrational and buy cars at their upfront value without factoring in the ongoing running costs, then skimp on looking after them because it’s easy to ignore and hope for the best. They wait till they fail a warrant, then do the minimum to keep it on the road.

Now it might sound like a shameless business plug, but we need to take a hard look at how we are looking after our cars. NZ has one of the most diverse vehicle fleets in the world, with a crazy amount of imports coming in, often with minimal history attached. They are then let loose on our roads, only to be checked in once a year for a quick WoF, which may inspect vehicle safety, but doesn’t go on to check vehicle health (maybe another rant to come on the vehicle graveyard that may soon become NZ).

Come on NZ. Let’s take better care of our cars, so we don’t need to have the same anxiety my friend on the plane had each time we jump in the driver’s seat of our cars.


References:

  • MTA Vehicle Inspection Report 2019
  • AA Running Cost Report 2019
  • Ministry of Transport Road Death Report Jan 2020