Despite the assertion by the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency just four months ago that waiting times had been significantly reduced, motorists in Northern Ireland are still experiencing considerable delays when it comes to booking an MoT test for their vehicles.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act show that the backlog still stands at 46,000 vehicles. The result is that the average wait is currently 31 days, but in the worst cases, some motorists are finding themselves having to face a delay of 96 days.
Although exemption certificates are issued so that drivers can continue to use their vehicles as the days tick past, the AA is right to say that the situation is unacceptable. The delays cause anxiety for motorists and create the very real danger that cars and vans which are unroadworthy will continue to be used.
While mechanical failure is not regarded as a major cause of road accidents, it is a factor. The value of the MoT is that it identifies potential dangers and ensures that they are remedied.
Also of crucial importance is the role of the MoT in checking vehicle emissions. Cars which are not properly tuned put out too much exhaust, polluting the air and creating a health risk for other road users, in particular pedestrians.
In its defence, the DVLA says that demand has risen by 26% and the backlog has been cut from a record high of 119,000 in 2004. It also points out that the average wait, which was 35 days last year, has been reduced.
Progress is being made but it is lamentably slow. Given that the system underwent a £57m private finance initiative modernisation in 2003, the public is entitled to expect better results.
The waiting time must be reduced. The issuing of exemption certificates is a short-term solution which may, indeed, lull motorists into a false sense of security. It is not a long-term answer.
The failure of the DVLA to make greater inroads into the waiting list does not help the Government's road safety message at a time of peak danger. The fact that cars which could be unroadworthy are permitted to remain on the roads for up to an extra three months before they are tested sends out entirely the wrong message at a crucial time of year.
With daylight diminishing and traffic volumes growing as Christmas approaches, all road-users need to be on the alert. Every vehicle needs to have fully functioning lights and indicators so that they can see and be seen.
Road safety is an area in which nobody can afford to compromise. Drivers have a responsibility to ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy, but equally, the DVLA is under an obligation not to leave them in the lurch.