Transportation

After suspension in 2020, it’s time to repeal vehicle inspections in Maine

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Lawmakers on Maine’s Transportation Committee held virtual public hearings Thursday on five bills sponsored by members of both parties that would repeal or reform Maine’s vehicle inspection program.

Two of the bills, LD 284 and 354, sponsored by Reps. Rich Cebra (R-Naples) and Jon Connor (R-Lewiston), respectively, would reform the program to require a motor vehicle inspection every two years. LD 431, also sponsored by Rep. Cebra, would eliminate the program entirely.

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox) is the lead sponsor of LDs 490 and 712. LD 490 would eliminate the inspection requirement for noncommercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles, trailers and semitrailers would still be required to be inspected. LD 712 would exempt vehicles less than 20 years old from the annual inspection requirement.

The absence of an inspection requirement may seem odd to Mainers, but a minority of states have mandatory inspection laws on the books. Twenty states have some form of an inspection requirement and five of them, including California, Colorado and Rhode Island, require biennial, not annual, inspections. Maine would do well to end these mandates, too.

Last year, state vehicle inspection and registration requirements were suspended for months under an emergency declared to manage a threat to public safety. Car repair shops were deemed essential, but state inspections were not. If this rule was crucial to ensure public safety, Governor Mills would not have suspended it. If this has not borne out in more dangerous roadways, then there is no reason to keep the current requirement as is. 

Maine’s vehicle inspection program is a needless mandate and unrelated to ensuring safe roadways. Many supporters of inspections laws assume that mechanical defects are responsible for a large proportion of motor vehicle accidents, but accidents due to distracted driving, speeding, or altered states are much more likely than poor vehicle maintenance.

Vehicular mechanical failures are such a minor factor in collisions that the Maine Department of Transportation just started including them in their most recent crash statistics report published in 2019. Of course, there is potential for a crash to be caused by more than one factor, but the report shows little more than 3% of the accidents from 2015 to 2019 involved a vehicular issue.

Those involving tire, wheel, steering, suspension, transmission, or brake issues made up only 1.75% of the five-year total. Crashes involving the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication made up 2.67% of all crashes during that period.

Supporters of state inspections also claim 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 weather conditions haven’t stopped Minnesota, North Dakota, and Connecticut—which receive an average of nearly 50 inches of snow a year—from repealing their vehicle inspection programs.

With more government mandates, the people lose more of their liberty, with no guarantee of safety. Residents and visitors of the 30 states without mandatory inspections rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates, to maintain their vehicles.  

Anyone at any time can bring their car to a mechanic to have it inspected for safety. Here in Maine, many local and chain auto mechanics advertise a free multi-point inspection, which are often as thorough as the state examination. This is employed as a successful marketing tool. Responsible drivers take advantage of this offer as an opportunity to diagnose any potential problems with their vehicle.

In addition, the state police already have the authority to take unsafe vehicles off the roads. 29-A MRSA §1768, sub-§5 designates the authority of the State Police to determine if a driver is operating a “defective vehicle,” including ¶B which states, “A person who violates this subsection commits a Class E crime if the vehicle is unsafe for operation because it poses an immediate hazard to an occupant of the vehicle or the general public.” This provision doesn’t need to be tied to inspections requirements in order to maintain law enforcement authority in this realm.

Passing any of these five bills would greatly help Mainers’ pocketbooks, especially those struggling to make ends meet. The Transportation Committee should move forward with them and eliminate this unnecessary burden on Maine people.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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