Corruption at MOT centres

MANY COACHES, buses and cars on the roads in Portugal are not in a roadworthy condition, according to Fernando Fidalgo, Chief of the Federação dos Sindicatos de Transportes Rodoviários e Urbanos (FESTRU), transport union. The reason for this, he believes, is that the owners of many MOT centres are corrupt, with just one objective in mind – to make money.

“Often an inspector cannot fail a car because it can mean that the inspection centre will lose an entire fleet of company cars,” claims Fidalgo. “If the employee insists on failing a fleet car, he risks getting fired by the owner. These owners only care about money and not about road safety.”

The federation leader gave as an example some of the buses that can been seen on the roads today. “In Portugal, there are coaches and buses on the roads that are more than 14 years old and it is impossible that these are in good condition. Meanwhile, they keep passing the inspections and continue to transport passengers.”

For Fidalgo, the problem is not a lack of ability or competence on the part of the inspectors, but pressure from their unscrupulous bosses. “If a company finds its car is failed at one centre they will simply keep going until they find a centre who will pass it,” explained the federation chief.

Now, Fidalgo is calling for the government to get involved to bring about some order and increase safety on the roads. “Today, the conditions are in place for quality inspections to be carried out in Portugal,” he emphasised, saying that one solution would be to give more power and autonomy to the actual inspectors, rather than the owners of the centres.

The killing must stop now

Meanwhile, a report by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) claims that thousands of people will be killed and injured, unnecessarily, if motor manufacturers fail to introduce long awaited design improvements immediately.

The TRL report states more than 12,400 cyclists and pedestrians are killed and 296,000 are seriously injured each year within the European Union – with a number of new member states yet to be incorporated within the figures (Greece, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).

But the European Commission has been told that 1,700 fatalities and 42,000 serious injuries to pedestrians and cyclists could be prevented each year if manufacturers produced cars that were compliant with the latest requirements. Legislation forcing the changes to be made is currently being phased in, but it will not be fully in force until 2010 or beyond. And discussions are still taking place to make the new laws less onerous on car manufacturers.

Now, the Chairman of Euro NCAP – the European New Car Assessment Programme, charged with enhancing car safety – has called upon the heads of major manufacturers to drive through the changes immediately. The campaign was launched at a conference in Madrid recently. Speaking there, Professor Claes Tingvall said: “The killing has got to stop, not tomorrow, not in 2010, but now. For every day that we lose, five people will die and 115 will be seriously injured. Car manufacturers have had the ability to save this pain and suffering for years, but have chosen not to do so. The World Health Organisation has called the situation a global catastrophe and it is. Manufacturers make the mistake of thinking that people wouldn’t be interested in saving lives if they had to pay a few euros more. I can give them an absolute guarantee that they are wrong.”

The proposed changes include the repositioning and restructuring of the front bumper to absorb energy and reduce the chances of leg breakage, the ‘softening’ of the leading edge of the bonnet and less rigid reinforcement under the bonnet. TRL researcher, Graham Lawrence, who co-authored the report for the European Commission, estimates that the average cost per vehicle of such modifications will be around 100 euros.

Safety is a marketing factor

The Euro NCAP Phase 15 ratings, which incorporate 13 new models and one previously tested car, reveal the extent of the problem.

• Seven of the models tested received the maximum five star rating for occupant safety

• Nine received the maximum four star rating for child protection

• No cars received the maximum four star rating for pedestrian protection

• Nine cars received merely one star rating for pedestrian protection

The dichotomy between occupant protection and pedestrian protection ratings is particularly stark with the Audi A6, Renault Modus, VW Touareg, and the Citröen C5. These models all achieved maximum five star ratings for occupant protection and just one star rating for pedestrian protection. Two vehicles – the Seat Altea and Citröen C4 – lead the pack, with a creditable three star rating for pedestrian protection. Professor Tingvall said: “We have made safety a market factor in the consumer decision-making process, but the manufacturers mistakenly believe that car buyers only care about their own and their passengers’ safety.”

Consultant Neurosurgeon, Colin Shieff, from the Royal Free Hospital in London, is on the front line in the fight to save life and limb. The campaigner for the head injury pressure group, Headway, has backed Euro NCAP’s call. “The brain is a very delicate organ,” he said. “You can’t just mend it like a broken bone. Head injury is all too common a result of a pedestrian or cyclist being hit by a car. It often proves fatal and those that survive often suffer serious consequences, such as memory loss, dramatic personality changes and, in the worst cases, loss of speech and mobility. In my opinion, anything that can be done should be done and it should be done now.”

“I felt totally responsible”

The campaign launch also featured the shocking story of a driver who killed a child on her way to school. The woman of 50, a teacher from Belgium, was not drunk, she was not speeding, she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, when a young child ran out into the road.

“I didn’t realise that anything was wrong – until I saw flesh on the windscreen,” she said. “I went to the child and held her head – she was beautiful. A few minutes later, I heard a woman screaming in the distance and, instinctively, I knew it was the mother arriving on the scene. For those awful moments, she wasn’t just her child, she was our child.”

Her story epitomises just how catastrophic being the driver of a car that kills will almost certainly be. The woman suffered a nervous breakdown, had to leave her job and cannot bring herself to be in the company of young children. “I felt totally responsible,” she said. “I was an adult and she was a child.”

Euro NCAP personnel will be lobbying vehicle manufacturers directly to emphasise their concerns about pedestrian safety.