Inside Augusta

Why must new vehicles be inspected?

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A bill being considered by the Maine Legislature this session would make inspection stickers on new vehicles valid for two years.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Rich Cebra, Mainers who purchase new vehicles – meaning vehicles that haven’t been previously titled or registered – would not be subject to the state’s annual vehicle inspection requirement after the first full year of ownership.

The bill, LD 10, reads, “a new motor vehicle that has had an inspection…is not required to have another inspection until 2 years from the last day of the month in which it was originally registered.”

After the two year window passes, however, owners will again be required to have their cars inspected annually. While the bill does not eliminate Maine’s vehicle inspection program – which has long outlived its usefulness – it is an important first step in reducing onerous fees and repair costs that disproportionately affect the poor and do little to make our roadways safer.

Maine, which first adopted its vehicle inspection program in 1930, is among the shrinking minority of states that still have vehicle inspection requirements on the books. Since 2000, four states and the District of Columbia have repealed their inspection programs, calling into question the necessity of a mandatory statewide program in Maine.

To put it plainly, there is no evidence that mandatory vehicle inspection programs decrease injuries or fatalities on public roadways. According to the Government Accountability Office, of the six rigorous studies examining vehicle safety inspection programs published since 1990, not a single one found a statistically significant difference in crash rates, fatalities or injuries between states with and without mandatory inspection programs.

As highlighted in a 2017 report by the Libertas Institute, there are several problems with mandatory vehicle inspection programs. For starters, mechanical failures are not a major contributing factor in car accidents (thus having little impact on the safety of motorists) and inspection guidelines are not consistently applied to every vehicle.

Consider, for example, one study where researchers in Pennsylvania intentionally created 13 defects in a brand new car prior to inspection. Among the garages they visited, the average detection rate of real defects was 37 percent. On average, mechanics found only five of the 13 defects and also found an average of two non-existent defects.

Supporters of vehicle inspections often claim that a mandatory program is necessary in Maine because of our harsh winters and the salt we use to treat our roadways, which accelerate vehicle deterioration. But similar conditions have not stopped states like Rhode Island from converting to a biennial inspection program, or states like Minnesota, North Dakota and Connecticut – which receive an average of nearly 50 inches of snow a year – from repealing their programs entirely.

If the presence of a vehicle inspection program actually translated to safer roadways, every state would require annual vehicle inspections.

Vehicles are far safer and more reliable than they were nearly a century ago when Maine’s vehicle inspection program was first implemented. While lawmakers should be aiming for a full repeal of the program, in the meantime, LD 10 will move Maine in the right direction.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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