A distressing note arrived at CompleteCar.ie today, sent by a reader. It reads: "Our neighbour crashed her car this morning. What shocked me was when she got on to her insurance company - they said their records showed she did not have a current NCT, and he wasn't insured. I never knew that, considering how long one might have to wait for an NCT."
Technically an offence
Now, for the moment, we're not in a position to independently confirm the veracity of that tale of woe, nor the details surrounding it, but the salient point is well made - given the ongoing delays in the National Car Test (NCT) system, are lots of us driving around accidentally uninsured?
Technically, the answer is yes. If your NCT certificate has expired, and your car hasn't yet been re-tested, then under the Road Traffic Act, it is an offence to drive a car on the public road without a valid NCT, and that does mean that any insurer can decline a claim on the basis that you were in breach of the Act.
Again, though, the key word here is 'Technically.' Irish insurers, a group of companies not known for their leniency in general, are apparently showing willingness when it comes to the backlog of NCT tests and the frequent delays for Irish drivers trying to book a test.
Several months of delays
The delays are down to a complex series of issues, many of which are fall-out from the Covid pandemic. That's not to excuse the NCT operator, Applus, which has come under close scrutiny by the Government and has been ordered to trim the waiting times for a test to an average of 12 days. However, at some NCT centres, the waiting time for a test according to the online booking system can be months.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA, which actually oversees the test itself) has previously said that testing slots were being opened up on the booking system "continually" and that many extra slots become available because of no-shows and cancellations. Equally, those no-shows are creating problems of their own. "There are very high levels of customer no-shows and late cancellations, which is severely impacting the NCTS operations and their ability to offer these appointments to other customers. NCTS asks customers if they know in advance that they will not be able to make their NCT appointment on the day, to let them know as soon as possible, so that those appointments could be offered to those customers on the priority list," said the RSA.
"Every effort is being made to manage the demand at this busy time; recruiting additional vehicle inspectors including seeking to recruit from abroad and the provision of overtime to provide cover for leave and additional shifts for staff."
Are you still covered?
But what about your insurance cover? Are you still covered if you have a shunt with an expired NCT? That depends on you - if you can show your insurer that you've been trying to get a test, but keep being given far-off dates, then it's more than likely that at least some understanding will be shown.
In a statement, Insurance Ireland told CompleteCar.ie that: "Insurance Ireland members will be pragmatic and understanding in their approach to the current delays at the National Car Testing Service (NCTS). Cover will continue to be provided where customers, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain their NCT due to backlogs at test centres. Motor insurance and road traffic legislation require that motorists maintain their vehicles in a roadworthy condition at all times and this remains the case. Under the current circumstances, provided motorists make every effort to book appointments in the normal way, insurance companies will recognise that the current issue is not the fault of the customer. Motorists should keep evidence of their appointment booking."
Separately, a spokesperson for Aviva told CompleteCar.ie that: "We advise all our customers that they must ensure their car is kept in a roadworthy condition and that it has a current and valid National Car Test (NCT) certificate. The policyholder must ensure the car is properly compliant with all Road Traffic legislation at all times. We also recognise the backlogs and delays that exist in some NCT centres across the country. With that in mind, we will stand over a valid own damage claim where the policyholder can provide evidence of an NCT booking having been made prior to the incident."
Equally, a spokesperson for Allianz told CompleteCar.ie that anyone covered under one of their policies to experiences an out-of-NCT issue should contact them, and they will offer both advice and any assistance needed.
So, the best advice is to try to book ahead as much as possible for your NCT, and if you can, be flexible as to the testing station you book at. Most importantly, though, keep a record - whether it be screenshots or similar - of what bookings you've made or attempted to make, and make sure you call the NCT Service on 01 4135992 to get yourself put on a priority list for cancellations if needs be.