In 1994, Maine rolled out the United States Emissions Test, a program that failed so significantly that the New York Times labeled it “a flop”. It took only two months of criticism for Augusta to cave to public pressure and halt the program for much needed improvements.
Now, 25 years after the failed emissions testing, Maine is refusing to give up another burdensome and unnecessary program: mandatory vehicle inspections.
Much like the emissions testing, inspections stickers are expensive, burdensome and have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Even for those who are well off, the annual vehicle inspection is an unnecessary expense. Not to mention the additional time cost for being subject to a program that does not create tangible value for citizens.
Like they were with emissions testing, many Mainers are fed up with mandatory vehicle inspections. It is not uncommon for citizens to protest the program by using fake stickers to avoid the requirement, or simply refusing to get their vehicle inspected. According to the Portland Press Herald, approximately 11,000 Mainers were cited for invalid inspection stickers in 2016.
The rest of us grumble as we pay the annual inspection fee, the ticket for forgetting to renew our inspection, or the mechanic for the hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs to a car that was running perfectly fine until it arrived at the shop for inspection.
As is exceedingly the case, legislators in Augusta are out of touch on the vehicle inspection program. On April 4, Maine’s Transportation Committee unanimously rejected a measure that would have eliminated the annual vehicle inspection requirement. Getting rid of this program would leave $3.5 million in hardworking Maine taxpayers’ pockets. Instead, Augusta will continue to collect this bounty from us for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the alarming extent to which this Maine imposes costs on families who are trying to climb out of poverty or stay in the middle class remains one of the reasons we struggle to address our demographic challenges.
It’s not just the $15 to $18 inspection charge that impacts Mainers. The current system forces all citizens once a year to report to their nearest mechanic, who has every incentive to find problems with your vehicle. They have a captive audience and, while not every mechanic goes out of their way to charge you more, the process itself means big bills for families who cannot afford to pay. Many people simply bring their car to different mechanics until they find one who will slap a sticker on it, illustrating how pointless this program truly is.
Not surprisingly, the most vocal supporters of the inspection program are the state police, mechanics and other automotive interests who are all protecting a valuable revenue stream— money taken through inspection fees and repairs, or from tickets given to drivers with out-of-date or invalid inspection stickers. Despite mechanical failures and malfunctions accounting for a minuscule percentage of automobile accidents, these interests continue to say the program saves lives and ensures safety on our roads.
In 1994, it took just two months of outrage from Mainers to shut down the emissions testing stations. Perhaps it’s time we as citizens rebuild this momentum to finally eliminate the mandatory vehicle inspection requirement.