Future of transport regulatory review: modernising vehicle standards

The Government is trying to understand how it should respond to the massive changes in transport that are happening and will continue to happen as vehicles electrify and get more connected. The most recent part of this process is a consultation that asks about how the government should regulate vehicle standards and what it can do to prevent what it calls ‘tampering’. The HCVA has written a response that describes how we feel that historic and classic vehicles should be excluded, and that the proposal to modifications that the document calls ‘tampering’, would damage our industry.

As the consultation says: “Technology will drive radical changes in transport in the next 10 years, with profound implications for transport users and businesses. Electrification, connectivity, automation, and real-time data collection and analysis are driving the development of new modes of travel and new ways to do business.” This bill would give the government the tools they need to regulate and control this new world without the need to go through the slow and clunky methods it has to now. On the whole, this is a good thing and would make the roads safer and better for everyone. Our job is to make sure that, as they do it, they don’t overlook the implications on historic and classic vehicles, owners and the industry.

The HCVA has requested three things. 
An exclusion for historic and classic vehicles from the new rules

The first is that all historic and classic vehicles, and all the owners and businesses who work on them, are excluded from the proposals about new technical regulations for road vehicles which include requirement for safety, security and “in-use monitoring.”

This is straightforward. We’ve asked that all the rules apply only to new cars, and not to cars already on the road. Also, we’ve asked that all of the existing garages, engineers and owners as well as all other businesses in the sector are exempted from any requirement to enforce these new rules on historic vehicles.

This is probably what the legislators were going to do anyway, but there are a few things we need to keep an eye on. For example, the requirements on ‘in-use monitoring’ might involve fitting black boxes to all vehicles, which would both require vehicle alterations and impact the liberties of owners.

Safeguards against future changes that might affect the sector

The bill would allow the government to bring in a lot of new rule changes through either official guidance or secondary legislation, getting around the need for these things to be discussed in parliament where they can be challenged. We’ve asked that all of these powers are limited to only new cars and that our sector is excluded.

Overall, these powers are probably for the good as they will make it much easier for the government to change the rules as technology emerges. It might mean that self-driving cars are given more leeway to operate as they get smarter or quicker adoption of hydrogen once the technology reaches commercial viability.

The protections we’re asked for will prevent any loopholes that a government in the future might exploit that could damage classics either deliberately or inadvertently, like changing fuel standards or mandating the kind of black boxes we described earlier. It would just mean that any changes that may hurt classic vehicles would need to go back to parliament for a debate and a vote.

A complete rethink of the ban on tampering

The trickiest part of the bill is the proposal to ban tampering – essentially making it illegal to alter cars in any way that would impact the environment, road safety or security. Naturally we support proposals that improve these aspects of motoring. However, as written, we fear that the proposals could inadvertently damage classics, even though this isn’t why the rules have been proposed.

In Parliament on 4th November, the transport minister Trudy Harrison said, “officials have been instructed to ensure that proposals do not prevent activities such as restoration, repairs or legitimate improvements to classic cars, or do any damage to the motor sports businesses involved in these activities.” Whist this is encouraging, the rules as set out don’t meet that goal.

As things stand, the proposals could criminalise everything from an owner who fits aftermarket rims, to a garage that fettles a car for racing, to an auction house that sold a car that had been appropriately and legitimately modified. As such, we’ve asked that the Department for Transport, the leaders for this legislation, to think of a different way to solve the problem and, if they can’t, then to put in place detailed exclusions for historic and classic cars, their owners and everyone who works with them.

It’s an issue that we’ll keep a close eye on as we work to protect the historic and classic car industry.