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Annual vehicle inspections serve no useful purpose

December 26, 2018

Annual motor vehicle inspections were begun more than 40 years ago for the purpose of keeping unsafe vehicles off the road and thereby preventing motor vehicle accidents and traffic fatalities. This well-intentioned program has been shown to be of limited value and in these austere economic times should be considered for elimination. Maryland, Kentucky and Ohio do not require inspections. The Virginia legislature is currently considering a bill to abolish the program. Only 17 states still require safety inspections.

I remember vividly when I moved from New York state to wild and wonderful West Virginia in 2003, I had to change my car plate and have a car inspection. I took my car to the dealer in Huntington. They requested to change few things that they thought were needed to comply with the safety regulation. The cost was $560. Interesting enough, it happened that I already inspected my car in upstate New York a few weeks before starting my long journey with the family moving to West Virginia and there was nothing wrong with the car, so I was not happy with the dealer service in Huntington. One of my co-workers understood my frustration and directed me to another mechanic whom she trusted, and the inspection was done with no added repair or parts change. Neither were any things needed in the following year’s inspection.

Opponents of the program argue that inspections do almost nothing to reduce fatalities and their cost to taxpayers is not justified. The sticker fee does not generate sufficient income to offset operating costs. Although the majority of inspection sites are run by honest businessmen, there is ample opportunity for unscrupulous mechanics to scrape off a sticker and require unnecessary repairs before issuing a new one. In every town, residents know which mechanics will do only a superficial inspection and issue a sticker to any car that is brought in. West Virginia is one of a few states that will fail a vehicle because of body damage. It can also be argued that motor vehicle inspections unfairly target the poor because they are more likely to be driving older automobiles and are less able to challenge a shop requiring unnecessary repairs.

There are existing laws that allow police officers to issue citations for unsafe vehicles. There are statutes covering lighting, mirrors, mufflers, brakes, horns and tires. Comparison of insurance rates between those states that require annual inspections and those that do not show no significant difference in premiums. When fatality rates are compared, there is no correlation between inspections and fatalities. In short, the annual vehicle safety inspection has not been proven to benefit drivers in any way. The people who lobby hardest for continuing this unnecessary program are body shops and mechanics who stand to make a profit from the inspection program.

Another incident happened recently over my wife’s car annual inspection that added to my frustration. There was a tiny dent in the windshield. It did not bother me or my wife. Nor did it affect our vision to the surrounding in the road. The Charleston dealer refused to inspect the car without changing the windshield, which cost $800 plus God knows what else he will think other parts need to be changed or repaired. Of course I was not happy with the dealer assessment and took the car to an other mechanic. The inspection was done without even mentioned anything about the windshield.

The real need is for emissions inspections, which would benefit every citizen of West Virginia. Automobile pollutants cause immediate and longterm effects on the environment. Car exhausts emit a wide range of gases and solid matter contributing to global warming, acid rain and harming the environment and human health. Currently, 35 states require emissions testing that is tailored for unique characteristics such as rural vs urban, the age of the vehicle and mileage. Costs of emissions inspections can be contained by targeting the most likely polluters: older cars, cars with high mileage, cars in urban areas and commercial vehicles. In West Virginia, where the typical age of an automobile is greater than the national average, it is even more important to take steps to do all that we can to protect the environment and the health of our citizens.

Why not use our tax dollars to implement a program that has a real benefit to our citizens and eliminate an expensive safety inspection that has not proven to be of value? I urge you to contact your state representative and senator to request that your tax dollars be used wisely.

Rida Mazagri is a neurosurgeon at Marshall Health and the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University. He lives in Charleston.

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