Inside Augusta

Sick of Inspection Stickers?

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Are you tired of being forced to have your car inspected every year? Are you skeptical that the only ones who benefit from Maine’s inspection program are car mechanics and government bureaucrats?

Very soon, the Maine House will be voting on LD 623, a bill that would change mandatory vehicle inspections to every two years, instead of annually. Owning a car opens doors of opportunity that are often beyond the reach of those reliant on public transit, especially in rural areas of Maine where poverty is most acute. While concern for public safety should always be on legislators’ minds, reducing the costs of maintaining a vehicle should be an important goal of policymakers seeking to alleviate poverty.

Today, only 16 states, including Maine, require annual vehicle inspections. Several others, including Rhode Island and Missouri, have transitioned to a biennial basis. Since 2000, three states and the District of Columbia have repealed their inspection programs entirely.

Of the six rigorous studies examining vehicle safety inspection programs published since 1990, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office, not a single one found a statistically significant difference in crash rates, fatalities, or injuries between states with and without inspection programs.

Recent states that have repealed their inspection programs have pointed to research that shows these laws have failed to provide any public benefit. And, it’s worth noting that despite critics’ warnings, these states did not see spikes in their car insurance premiums in the years following repeal.

Maine’s vehicle inspection program constitutes an inconvenience on motorists, and disproportionately targets the poor, who often lack enough money to finance costly repairs.

Vehicle inspection requirements ignore the fact that drivers have a strong incentive to keep their vehicle in reasonably good mechanical condition. For many safety-sensitive systems like braking and steering, the average amount of time that passes from detection to repair is low – typically no more than a few weeks. In these cases, annual inspections are largely superfluous.

Additionally, the idea that inspection guidelines are consistently applied to every vehicle is a fantasy. In one study, researchers in Pennsylvania intentionally created 13 defects in a brand new car prior to inspection. Among the several garages they visited, the detection rate of real defects varied widely, from 25 to 54 percent. Interestingly, while mechanics on average only found 5 of the 13 defects, they also found an average of 2 non-existent defects.

You may hear from critics of this bill that Maine’s harsh winters and salty roads accelerate vehicle deterioration, and that comparing Maine to southern states that have repealed their inspection laws is unfair. But winter conditions have not stopped Rhode Island from adopting a biennial inspection requirement, and they have not prevented Minnesota, North Dakota, and Connecticut – which receive an average of nearly 50 inches of snow a year – from repealing their vehicle inspection programs entirely. Research using crash statistics from these states has not shown an increase in vehicular accidents, injuries, or fatalities.

Vehicles today are more reliable and safer than the vehicles that were on the road in 1930, when Maine first adopted its vehicle inspection program. As the Maine State Police testified on a similar bill two years ago, transitioning to a biennial requirement “seems to be a good compromise to the overall goal that we all share of keeping Maine s roads safe for our citizens and visitors.”

It’s time to seriously reconsider the justification for a law passed 87 years ago. Lessening the burden on Maine’s motorists will put money back into the pockets of families that need it most.

About Mike Quatrano

Mike Quatrano is the Director of Civic Engagement at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, overseeing MHPC's grassroots activist network and collaboration with the state legislature.

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