How do you define a historic vehicle? FIVA has a very strict interpretation of the definition that could have serious usage ramifications in the future
The Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) is seeking to moderate the latest emissions from the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA) about what constitutes a historic vehicle. Increasing numbers of low-emission zones (LEZs) across Europe have focused the minds of those who represent the interests of historic-vehicle owners and the freedom to use them. Same aims, different interpretations. Or so it seemed after FIVA’s press release of 2 February, and FBHVC’s request for a raincheck on 26 February.
Two issues are troubling our legal representatives. One relates to those LEZs: FIVA wants all of them across Europe to adopt the same stance, exempting historic vehicles from potential exclusion from these zones, whereas FBHVC thinks it better to negotiate individually with LEZs as they are created, and not involve an extra layer of administration.
The other is that definition of historic. FBHVC fears that some of the terms used in the FIVA press release are in danger of being enshrined into EU law, simply so that LEZ authorities know what they’re working with. In the FIVA release – titled ‘Historic vehicles are not simply “old” vehicles, says FIVA’ – federation president Patrick Rollet describes a historic vehicle as at least 30 years old, preserved and maintained in a historically correct condition and not used as a means of everyday transport. He emphasises that they should not be lumped together with old, badly maintained cars that are used as cheap everyday transport.
The spirit and the intention are welcome, of course, but there’s danger in those words. What defines ‘historically correct’? Parts get replaced over the years and cars get restored; how do you police improvements and modifications, particularly dear to British owners of classic cars who also, it seems, use their cars more than many mainland Europeans do. And why shouldn’t they be used as daily transport if the owner enjoys doing so?
FBHVC has requested that FIVA withdraws its press release and gives itself time to consider its position on LEZs having consulted with the national federations, obviously including FBHVC, which says it has the backing of the All-Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Group. FBHVC emphasises that the definitions of ‘historic’ in the FIVA Technical Code and the Charter of Turin – fundamentally what Patrick Rollet said above – are not intended for incorporation into EU or any other law, so its worry about EU-wide official standardisation is understandable.
However, in reply to our concerns that making historics a special case could open the door to restrictions on everyday use, FIVA’s press officer, Gautam Sen, explains that the definitions of ‘historic’ are ‘conceptual’, to help a regulatory audience understand ‘the sense of a historic vehicle’. He also says that FIVA recognises that a small minority of historic vehicles are used daily or are not as they were when made, but that doesn’t stop them being historic.
On LEZs, he says that FIVA is not arguing for harmonisation for an EU directive or for LEZ regulation. It simply wants to provide guidance so that LEZs’ restrictions can be consistent, and so governments and local authorities can recognise that it is a good thing to treat historic vehicles as ‘special’. These are good and welcome intentions. We can only hope they don’t backfire.
Words: John Simister // Image: Paul Harmer