When the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency scooped the 2018 Civil Service Digital Award for its hugely successful MOT reminder service, it proved just how powerful positive persuasion can be. Alex Fiddes, programme delivery executive, explains how the programme is making Britain's roads safer.
If you have a never-ending to-do list of work tasks and domestic chores, but booking your car’s annual MOT test has slipped your mind, rest assured: you are not alone. When the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), winner of this year’s Civil Service Digital Award, analysed the figures in their database, they found that more than a quarter of the 30 million cars tested each year had not received their MOT by the due date. While some vehicles were probably stored safely in a garage, that still left a number of potentially unsafe vehicles out on the road.
The DVSA is responsible for carrying out driving tests and approving driving instructors as well as carrying out MOT tests in Great Britain. Each year, 23,000 businesses carry out the tests, and then record the details via a web-based service, resulting in a database with more than 400 million records. That data is used to collect £6.5bn a year in car tax, but it can also be analysed by the DVSA to identify trends over time.
To address the problem of missed MOTs, the agency developed a simple reminder service, saving costs by adapting the Gov.uk Notify product. The service is both free and easy to use: vehicle owners register online, entering nothing more than their car’s number plate and a mobile phone number or email address. It’s easy to unsubscribe too.
The initial soft launch in 2015, involving 20,000 people and lasting three months, enabled the DVSA to solicit feedback and improve the service. It then promoted the service extensively on social media with the result that since the full launch in April 2017, 1.3 million people hadregistered. Alex Fiddes, programme delivery executive, explains how it works: “You can subscribe as many vehicles as you wish. We send an MOT text message, in most cases, to the motorist four weeks before the test is due. We then send another one two weeks before the MOT expires, and in the instances where people may forget we send them a follow-up reminder.”
As a result, the proportion of missed MOTs amongst registered users has dropped from 28% last year to 17% in 2018, although as Fiddes points out, it will take a while to assess the full impact of the service – if people register for it immediately after an MOT, it will be another 11 months before they receive a reminder. A team of researchers continues to solicit feedback from motorists about the service and how it can be improved.
Although 1.3 million registrations is a significant achievement in such a short space of time, Fiddes says the longer-term aim is to have 10 million people signed up for the reminders. In recent months, the ability to register commercial vehicles has been added, and there are plans to work with Northern Ireland, which has a separate agency for managing MOTs.
Following this initial success, the agency has now introduced a new service, MOT History and Recalls. Available on the Gov.uk wensite, it enables users to find out more about the MOT history of a vehicle they own or are thinking of purchasing, and whether the vehicle is due a safety recall. “It’s all about making the vehicle safer and as a consequence of that we hope that the person then is a safer motorist,” says Fiddes.
Winning the Digital Award means a lot to Fiddes and his team. “We can demonstrate that you can achieve lots of great things quite easily through a reminder service,” he says. He likes the idea of being able to give people a nudge through a reminder, rather than forcing people to comply. “You can see you’ve built something that means that somebody changes their behaviour for the better and you're helping them do it. That’s a value that people who work for us really subscribe to.”