Vehicle Safety Inspection

Pros and cons of requiring state safety inspections.


The Utah state legislature is debating eliminating safety inspection for privately owned passenger vehicles. So is the state of Missouri. The governor of Hawaii just vetoed a similar bill, but the District of Columbia eliminated safety inspection of private vehicles in 2009.

Today, 19 states require safety inspection for private passenger vehicles; annually in thirteen states, biannually in two and the rest are irregular, usually when the title is transferred. Some inspections are quite comprehensive, while others are… not.

The political argument against safety inspection is, as stated by Utah State Rep. John Dougall, “There is nothing that shows that it makes our roads safer.” In a panel discussion several years ago I learned that even though police, DMV administrators and insurance companies all worked hard on this, no one has been able to generate statistics proving safety inspection programs help improve highway safety. Without solid statistics to back them up, elected officials don’t want to spend money on inspection programs or force their constituents to spend money on car repair.

Pennsylvania has required safety inspection since 1936, and it’s by far the most comprehensive. For residents it’s just a fact of life, and there’s never been any serious consumer pressure to end the program. But having been a PA inspection mechanic, I saw first-hand the two main objections I hear most often from those within our industry who oppose it; government interference in our business, and dishonest inspectors taking advantage of captive customers. I disagree.

Pennsylvania shop owners tell me it’s not a big deal. The shop must meet certain criteria, and specific tools and equipment must be on hand, and techs must pass a test to get an inspection license. But none of this is hard or too expensive to recover (we’re discussing SAFETY inspection, not emissions inspection). While the state-set price doesn’t cover the shop’s real cost, there are very few shops in that PA don’t have an inspection license because customers expect “their” shop to inspect their car. For shops in Pennsylvania, state inspection is just a normal part of business.

State inspection generates a lot of work, real work, and anyone reading this knows there’s more than enough honest work for capable shops to succeed in this business. Dishonest shops don’t need an inspection program to abuse customers. In fact, it’s more common that they’ll issue stickers to vehicles that shouldn’t pass inspection.

The day I moved to another state, I saw a car on the highway with bald tires, sagging rear springs, no brake lights, a rope holding the hood down and the driver was constantly working the steering wheel just to stay in his lane. It was a frightening and unforgettable sight that probably became a statistic. I hope it was only one.

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