Inside Augusta

Vehicle inspections do not make our roads safer

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Lawmakers on the Transportation Committee today will hold a public hearing on LD 270, sponsored by Sen. David Miramant, a bill that would repeal the portions of Maine’s vehicle inspection program that require passenger vehicles to be inspected annually. Only commercial vehicles, trailers, semitrailers and fire trucks would remain subject to inspection requirements.

Vehicle inspection programs can be considered the government’s stamp of approval to allow individuals to drive their cars. Ideally, such a pointless and onerous system would not exist in the first place, but when the program was first enacted 1930, motor vehicles were far less safe than they are today.

In recent years, lawmakers have considered and rejected numerous bills to reform the inspection process. Some of these proposals include moving to a biennial inspection program and removing the inspection requirement for new vehicles. Instead of taking an incremental approach, LD 270 seeks a full repeal for passenger vehicles. No matter which approach lawmakers take, easing the inspection requirement will provide much-needed relief to Maine motorists. Inspection programs are outdated and have already been nixed in the majority of states.

Past critics of efforts to reform Maine’s vehicle inspection program have claimed that more accidents will occur as a result of removing the annual inspection requirement. This claim is simply inaccurate. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that only two percent of crashes could be attributed to vehicle-related problems.

Motorists are far more likely to be harmed by a distracted driver than to be involved in an accident due to the failure of a mechanical component within their vehicle. In addition, states that have repealed their vehicle inspection mandates have not seen an increase in traffic fatalities. In fact, some states have even seen a decrease.  

Efforts to repeal Maine’s inspection mandate have also been met with warnings that doing so would cause car insurance rates to surge due to the increasing frequency of accidents. This claim is easily tested using comprehensive data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and is plainly false. Data from 2016 shows that the average premium for liability insurance in states that did not have inspection mandates was $517 per year, compared to $548 in states with mandatory inspections.

The same dataset shows that, out of the 10 most expensive states for liability insurance, five have inspection requirements and five do not. Out of the 10 most affordable states for liability insurance, three have inspection programs and seven do not. Thus, car insurance premiums are unlikely to increase due to the repeal or easing of the vehicle inspection laws.

Critics of the bill might also claim that salt corrodes the metal on vehicles more rapidly in Maine than other states, and that the inspection program helps reduce the number of unsafe, corroding vehicles. However, several states that receive high volumes of snowfall and use chemicals such as sodium chloride to combat the effects of winter weather have repealed or rejected vehicle inspection requirements entirely, including Connecticut, North Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan, Utah and Alaska.

Research has not shown that accidents, injuries and fatalities increased in these states since repealing annual vehicle inspection requirements. Other states use the same chemicals on their roads and allow their residents to drive their cars without annual vehicle inspections.

Perhaps the most important layer of protection against faulty or unsafe vehicles comes from law enforcement in Maine. Law enforcement officers at the state and local level can stop a vehicle if they believe it is unsafe to drive on our roads. If the vehicle is an immediate hazard to the public or has caused an accident, the operator could be charged with a Class E crime. Therefore, vehicles can already be deemed unsafe by law enforcement, eliminating the need for all Maine residents to get their vehicles inspected annually.

Maine’s vehicle inspection program, once well-intentioned, is now an outdated law that severely burdens motorists and does little to ensure safety on Maine roads. Since vehicle inspections do not make the roads safer, it’s time for Maine to follow suit and repeal vehicle inspection program.  

About Adam Crepeau

Adam Crepeau serves as a policy analyst at The Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at acrepeau@mainepolicy.org.

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