Extra million vehicles should be off the road

New figures reveal that there could be up to a million vehicles on Portuguese roads that do not comply with road safety requirements, even though they have been passed as roadworthy.

João Gomes, president of the Association of Vehicle Inspectors (ATIPOV), said the fact that most of the vehicles have been passed by official inspection centres is irrelevant: “Every year there are four million vehicle inspections. About 20 per cent of vehicles (800,000) currently do not pass the inspection but, if the legislation in force were properly applied, the number of failures would shoot up to 45 per cent. In other words, there is another 25 per cent, or a further million vehicles, that were approved when they shouldn’t have been.”

Gomes claims that some vehicle inspectors are negligent because they are subjected to pressure from employers and clients to ‘pass’ as many cars as possible and are fearful of dismissal if they are seen to be holding up vehicles.

The ATIPOV president says that this practice of turning a blind eye to unsuitable vehicles has been repeatedly reported to the Ministry of Internal Administration and to the Director-General of Transport, but that they have failed to take action. And, although vehicle inspectors might think they are helping drivers by passing borderline unroadworthy cars, he also points out: “There are many reports that come through about road accidents put down to various causes, such as drink-driving or dangerous manoeuvres. But, in fact, many emanate from mechanical failures in vehicles that have been passed at inspection centres. The bombeiros have neither the technical training nor the expertise to detect mechanical failures and the Brigada de Trânsito only concern themselves with infractions of the Highway Code.”

Meanwhile, the president of the National Association of Periodic Inspection Centres, Paulo Areal, has disputed the allegations and claims his inspectors are “completely thorough” when it came to carrying out tests. He also contested the figures put forward by Gomes, saying: “Road safety is in no danger whatsoever. I fail to recognise Sr Gomes as any authority on this issue. I would concede there is some leeway given to matters not involving road safety, but, regarding everything else, inspectors do not miss a trick.”

Areal also says there are safeguards to prevent the oversights described by the ATIPOV President, explaining: “An inspector who fails to detect an anomaly in a warning triangle, for example, is fined 500 euros and faces a two-month suspension.”

Drink driving up

Meanwhile, in another worrying development, recent figures revealed an increase in the number of motorists driving under the influence of alcohol in Portugal. Figures released by the GNR’s Brigada de Trânsito division reveal that during 2003 there were 24,891 cases of drink-driving recorded (drivers with more than 0.5 grammes of alcohol per litre of blood), a year on year increase of nearly 6,000, and that is in spite of police conducting fewer checks. In total, there were 309,695 spot checks, less than half of the 2002 figure.

However, Captain Lourenço da Silva of the GNR’s BT division explained the rise by revealing that the BTpatrols became more “surgical” in 2003. “We chose the time and choice of location for the checks more selectively and our objectives became more specific,” he revealed. “This led to excess alcohol levels being recorded more frequently.” 2003 also saw an increase in those driving with more than 1.2 grammes of alcohol per litre of blood, a level considered a crime in Portugal. Last year, 8,287 drivers fell into this category, as opposed to 6,261 in 2002.

According to the Brigada de Trânsito, the highest blood alcohol level recorded last year was an astonishing five grammes of alcohol per litre of blood, detected in a 56-year-old driver. But this is still considerably below the all time record of 7.84 gr./litre set by Fernando Umbelino on June 10, 2000. This particular driver also fell foul of the drink driving laws on two subsequent occasions, recording 3.4 gr./litre in 2001 and 3.65 gr./litre in 2002. In addition to paying 2,000 euros in fines, Umbelino will only be eligible to return behind the wheel of a car in December this year, three and a half years after his first contravention.