Commentary

Does Maine really need a vehicle inspection program?

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The Portland Press Herald on Sunday, Nov. 26 published an article highlighting recent efforts in Maine to crack down on the black market of counterfeit vehicle inspection stickers. As noted in the article, a group of men in Saco were recently charged for producing and selling fake inspection stickers.

Lt. Bruce Scott, who helps oversee Maine’s vehicle inspection program, added the counterfeit stickers from the Saco bust to the “Fake Sticker Hall of Fame,” a board Scott uses to commemorate both the hideous and more authentic counterfeit stickers he and other law enforcement officials have encountered in their years of service.

Over the last two decades, 16 states have repealed their vehicle inspection programs. Today, Maine is one of just 17 states with annual or biannual vehicle inspection programs on the books, calling into question Maine’s need for the program.

Maine drivers spend an estimated $16 million to get their vehicles inspected each year. While vehicle inspections burden every Mainer, the program is particularly harmful to low-income earners who already struggle to pay the $15 inspection fee, let alone potentially hundreds of dollars in repairs to legally drive their vehicle on Maine roads.

The stated purpose of a vehicle inspection program is to ensure that vehicles driven on public roadways safe and do not pose a threat to drivers, passengers and other motorists. Proponents of vehicle inspections assert that the program is necessary for protecting the health and safety of everyone traveling on Maine roads. However, vehicles are inherently dangerous for a number of reasons, and the data does not back the assertion that inspections improve safety.

Using accident report data from 1981 to 1993, a study found that vehicle inspection programs do not reduce fatality rates or the number of nonfatal accidents. In addition, little evidence exists to suggest that motor vehicle accidents occur as a result of mechanical failure, which is what vehicle inspection programs are intended to prevent. A study by Utah’s Libertas Institute found that in 2013, only 3.8 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the state were due to mechanical failures. The majority of reported accidents were caused by speeding.

The Libertas study also notes, “Safety inspections administered based on the age of the car are an inaccurate way to measure a car’s usage, and therefore safety; a vehicle rarely or never driven should not need an inspection, and it is not worth the time to the inspection station or the vehicle owner to force an inspection.”

Despite the simple logic that a car that is rarely driven should not need inspection, Maine and other states still impose this requirement. In contrast, inspection programs present a timely opportunity for inspection stations to cash in on drivers whose vehicles accumulate mileage at above average rates (especially those with no automotive knowledge or expertise).

Requiring a vehicle to be inspected is also flawed because the inspection takes place only once every one or two years, offering just a snapshot of the vehicle’s overall condition and performance.

The presence of an inspection sticker does not guarantee the safety of a vehicle for any length of time. Instead, it merely informs law enforcement personnel that you have paid the mandatory fees required to operate a vehicle on public roadways for a one or two year period. The overall safety of a vehicle is dependent on the driver, road and weather conditions, and the quality of the mechanic(s) performing routine maintenance and annual inspections on the vehicle. Given the power inspections stations have over an individual’s right to drive on public roads, many Mainers are forced to pay hundreds of dollars each year for repairs and alterations that do not enhance the safety, mechanical performance, or reliability of their vehicles.

Based on the existing data, it is time for Maine to reconsider its vehicle inspection program. The costs incurred by every Mainer are not worth the fruitless “benefits” of the state’s inspection program, as it has shown no measurable improvement to the health and safety of Maine motorists in comparison to motorists in states that do not mandate vehicle inspections.

Instead of accentuating the “Hall of Fame” used to commemorate fraudulent stickers and patronize violators, Maine’s media should explore why a counterfeit operation like the one in Saco would exist to begin with; because Maine’s vehicle inspection program is a government protected racket that some Mainers simply cannot afford.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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