ATFOA warns removing test exemptions could open 'a can of worms'

ATF Operators Association (ATFOA) president Stephen Smith has warned that the potential inclusion of an extra 40,000 vehicles in the requirement for an annual test could open up “a can of worms” for authorised testing facilities (ATFs).

Smith said plans to include more vehicles in the requirement for annual test – including volumetric mixers, mobile cranes, asphalt trailers and heavy recovery vehicles – would be welcomed by ATF operators in terms of the extra business it would generate for them, especially in light of the growing number of ATFs being established to serve a finite number of vehicles.

But he went on to back the concerns raised by the DVSA in its response to the recent DfT consultation on the matter regarding the ability of many ATF test lanes to accommodate some vehicles because of their size, ground clearance or load.

“There are some physical aspects and some technical aspects to this,” he said. “You need to consider what these test lanes were made for – some of them were not made to carry really heavy axle weights, for example, and the test itself, in its current format, could not actually cope with some of these vehicles.”

That might force the creation of a new range of specialist tests for individual vehicles, leading to some tests taking longer than others, he said.

It’s not clear exactly how much change might be needed at ATF test lanes to accommodate any ‘awkward’ vehicles or whether ATF operators would be prepared to invest in doing so, added Smith. It’s also unclear just how such vehicles would get their annual test if ATFs could not accommodate them, given the gradual withdrawal of testing at the DVSA’s own premises.

Any call by the DVSA on ATFs to invest more in their facilities would be “a tall order, given the DVSA’s record on not keeping us in touch with their thoughts”, said Smith. “Investment is a risk, and the risks go off the scale when you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”

“This really opens up a can of worms,” he added. 

No conversations have yet taken place between the DVSA and the ATFOA – which represents around 150 of the 500-plus ATFs now being operated by private firms – about the DfT’s proposals to include more vehicles in the annual test, said Smith, and the ATFOA continues to have severe misgivings about the whole way the DVSA appears to be controlling ATFs’ businesses.

Longstanding ATFOA concerns about the number of DVSA testing staff available, the booking process required to secure them, the price caps imposed on ATF pit fees, the growing number of competitors being allowed to enter the market and the DVSA’s apparent unwillingness to treat ATF operators as equal partners have not been alleviated, stressed Smith. “On the contrary, the concerns are growing,” he said.

Asked to comment on some of these concerns, a DVSA spokeswoman told Commercialmotor.com: “DVSA’s strategy is to work in equal partnership with privately-owned ATFs. The majority of ATFs are happy with the current model, however we continue to work closely with ATFOA and the wider industry to make sure we address any concerns.”

She declined to comment in detail on the difficulties ATFs might face in accommodating the extra 40,000 vehicles that may come into scope of annual testing or confirm whether the DVSA would expect ATFs to invest more to make sure they could accommodate them, saying only: “There has been a wide range of responses and practical suggestions from respondents to the consultation. The department [DfT] will evaluate these responses and suggestions in detail when considering future changes and will seek to do so in ways that will promote road safety while minimising burdens on businesses and individuals.”