A Challenging Road Ahead for Mandatory Safety Inspection

March 8, 2013

Every year, the aftermarket talks about the need for states to adopt safety inspection programs in order to ensure that all of those maintenance items — such as brakes, tires, wipers and lights — are in good working order. Yes, it is good for business, but as many repair shops know, a lot of people are driving around with critical safety-related components that are not in full working order, endangering their lives and those that share the highway with them. However, the value of safety inspection programs is not necessarily shared by the public and, in many states, the industry is fighting to just keep their programs from being eliminated.

Taking a look back on this history of safety inspection might help provide some perspective. In 1966, Congress passed the Highway Safety Act, which included a provision that made vehicle safety inspection a required element of each state’s highway safety program. By 1968, 31 states and the District of Columbia had programs that required car owners to have their vehicle safety systems inspected on a yearly basis.

In 1973, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established vehicle-in-use standards and states risked losing highway funds for not establishing a complying safety inspection program. However, the NHTSA standards were pretty weak and so were many of the state programs. Perceiving that the inspections were both inconvenient and ineffective, the public called on their local elected officials to eliminate them.

In 1976, Congress bowed to public dissatisfaction, eliminating the ability of NHTSA to take away highway money from states that failed to implement a safety inspection program. With the federal pressure off, many states shed their safety inspection programs. Now, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, only 16 states have programs, and four of those states have gone to inspections every two years.

Until recently, safety inspection programs have been pretty difficult to defend. There just was not enough data to demonstrate that they had a measurable safety benefit. However, in 2011, the Department of Transportation for the state of Pennsylvania completed a report that showed very clearly the importance of safety inspection to saving lives on the nation’s highways. The report, which was undertaken by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., concluded that Pennsylvania’s, as well as other vehicle safety inspection programs, are effective ways to reduce fatal crashes and save lives. Specifically the report stated that:

  • Nationally, vehicle safety inspection programs appear to be a significant factor in lowering fatal crashes;
  • Based on the model results, Pennsylvania can be expected to have between 115 and 169 fewer fatal crashes each year, corresponding to between 127 and 187 fewer fatalities each year than it would have if it did not have a vehicle safety inspection program; and,
  • The largest difference in reported vehicle failures at the scene of fatal crashes between states with programs and states without programs is for vehicles of three years of age or more.

Of course, more data is going to be necessary to turn the corner on safety inspection. In the meantime, states like Hawaii, Missouri, Mississippi and North Carolina have had bills introduced that seek to end or reduce the number of vehicles that are inspected. Whether these bills receive any attention or not, it is critical that aftermarket companies in these states contact their legislators in support of keeping their safety inspection programs in place. We simply cannot afford to lose any more programs.

In addition, the industry can take matters into their own hands by producing more voluntary car care events. During these events, car owners can obtain free inspections of some of their safety items, but without the government mandate. These events have proved very popular since it appears that the motoring public may not want to be required to have their car inspected, but they don’t seem to be as opposed to having their vehicle voluntarily inspected for free. Interesting, but certainly not surprising.

More information on hosting a car care event can be found here or by contacting the Car Care Council at www.carcare.orgor 240-333-1088.

–Aaron Lowe, vice president, government affairs, AAIA

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