Drivers and their cars are dangerously unprepared for a post-lockdown return to the road, according to safety, breakdown and motor industry experts.
As the country begins to exit lockdown and millions of people return to work there are fears that many are putting themselves and others at risk by failing to carry out basic safety checks on vehicles which may have gone unused for weeks or even months.
A study by road safety charity Brake and breakdown service Green Flag found that millions of drivers admit to carrying out basic maintenance checks only once a year, with a worrying proportion saying they never check simple things such as tyre pressures and wiper condition.
The Department for Transport announced in March that all cars due an MOT after March 30 would be given an automatic six-month extension, raising fears that many more dangerous cars could end up on the roads.
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The Brake/Green Flag survey found that one in 10 drivers - the equivalent of four million motorists - admitted to never carrying out basic checks, while an estimated 14 million check their vehicle only once a year.
The report into vehicle maintenance also reveals that a fifth of all drivers have knowingly driven a vehicle that was not roadworthy, increasing to more than a third of 18-34 year olds.
The Brake and Green Flag findings are echoed by a report from the Institute of the Motor Industry, which reveals that only a quarter of drivers have checked their car’s tread depth during lockdown and only a third have checked their brakes.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said: “We want to remind drivers that regular safety checks of your vehicle are vital as even minor defects, like a worn wiper blade, can play a part in a catastrophic crash. Drivers have a responsibility for a vehicle’s safety and this is a responsibility which should not be taken lightly.
“With the coronavirus MOT exemption delaying tests, checking the safety of your vehicle has never been more important. We urge all drivers to perform regular ‘walk-round’ checks of their vehicle, once a week and before any long journeys – it is a couple of minutes which could be the difference between life and death. If you have any suspicion at all that something is not right with your car, do not drive it and consult a professional.”
Dean Keeling managing director of Green Flag added: “Green Flag understands that drivers have differing degrees of mechanical knowledge when it comes to cars but while it is crucial that you know how to drive a car; it is also your responsibility to maintain it.
“Keeping your vehicle in good working condition as opposed to driving an unroadworthy unsafe car could be the difference between getting to your destination safely or the cause of an avoidable crash and serious injury or worse.”
Steve Nash, CEO of the IMI said the current MOT extension, which some have called for to be abandoned, could add to the risks on the road. He said: “Consumers are being encouraged to get back out into the shops and workers urged to get back to work; but at the same time asked to avoid public transport. However, the MOT on millions of vehicles has already expired, which means even the most basic checks haven’t been done. Indeed there are claims that more than a million vehicles due for their MOT since lockdown are likely to have failed. Combined with the fact that more than a third of the motorists don’t feel confident to do longer journeys, we are very concerned that drivers are running the risk of getting behind the wheel of unroadworthy cars, putting themselves and other road users at risk."
Basic ‘walk-round’ checks you can carry out yourself
Brake, Green Flag and the IMI all recommended drivers carry out some simple checks before using their car for the first time, and then weekly after that. These include:
Tyre checks - Check the tread depth, pressure and overall condition. Use a tread depth gauge or the 20p test to ensure our tyres meet the legal minimum depth of 1.6mm. Ensure the pressures match those given in your owner’s manual, and check for cuts, cracks or bulges anywhere. Also check wheel nuts haven’t worked loose.
Lights - check all lights are working either by walking around yourself or asking a friend/family member to watch as you operate them
Fluids - Check oil and water levels, and other fluids such as power steering, windscreen washer and brake fluid, are well above minimum levels.
Windows and wipers - Make sure your windscreen and mirrors are properly cleaned. Check wiper blades are clean and free splits or damage to the rubber. Replace if they are damaged or not clearing the screen properly.
For more detailed guidance on all the post-lockdown checks you should carry out, see our guide here.