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The Repeal of Safety Inspections

Monday, 27 February 2017

by Erin McAllister, Paralegal

Utah has had mandatory safety inspections since 1936 and is one of only 16 states still requiring them. That may change as members of the Utah House voted 45-29 to pass HB265 and send it to the Senate. HB 265 would do away with the requirement of a safety inspections before registering your vehicle.

HB265 would still require safety inspections for commercial vehicles, but Utah drivers would be able to renew registration on passenger vehicles — new and old — without the currently required safety inspection certificate. We have roughly 1.6 million vehicles that go through the inspection process; 60,000 are rejected for safety concerns. Safety concerns that would cause a vehicle to fail the safety inspection vary from brakes that fail to a burned out light on a license plate.

Rep. Lee Perry (a Utah Highway Patrol trooper) said he supported a bill in 2012 that reduced the frequency of inspections and immediately regretted it. The first accident he investigated afterward was a fatality in which a man bought a car in Idaho — which does not require inspections — and its brakes failed in a canyon. Perry has seen problems that killed people that he said could have been prevented by inspections.

But the Bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan McCay, said his truck failed an inspection because a license-plate light bulb had burned out. He said studies show fewer than 1 percent of road fatalities come from failed equipment.

Introducing the Bill required a study to be completed examining the relationship between mechanical failure and traffic accidents. Under the supervision of a Brigham Young University economics professor, math and economic majors Alex Hoagland and Trevor Wooley conducted the study. “Those states with inspections, versus demographics of those states without inspections required, the proportion of traffic accidents due to car failure is exactly 3 percent on both. There is no difference,” Hoagland said. The study found surrounding states are no different when it comes to accidents resulting from car safety issues.

The real problem with traffic safety is bad driving. Rep. McCay believes eliminating safety inspections would allow six Highway Patrol troopers overseeing inspection programs to leave their desks and help enforce laws against speeding, texting, not wearing seat belts or driving while impaired.

McCay said studies have shown that a vast majority of fatalities on the road are attributed to driver error, impaired driving, or weather conditions; not because a vehicle didn't pass a safety inspection. To other lawmakers, HB265 was no lighthearted matter. "These safety inspections save lives," Perry said. "I know what I deal with. I know what I see out there." Perry argued that catching the 60,000 serious vehicle problems identified annually by inspections would require "40 troopers stopping 1,500 cars a day," so the change would be a bad trade-off.

"It is really a tax," Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, said about inspections. "You have an opportunity to repeal a tax."

But Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, warned passing the Bill would make Utah roads more dangerous. "There is a certain percent of our population that will drive their car until their brakes fall off and their muffler falls off and their tires fall off. He believes inspections force citizens to keep their cars safe.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress, issued a 2014 report saying it can find no definitive evidence that mandatory inspection programs reduce accidents, noting crash rates are about the same in states that have them as in those that do not.

But it noted states with those programs do find and correct all sorts of safety problems. For example, the GAO report said Utah in 2015 reported 47,172 failed inspections just for "glass" problems, which it said included "glass that is broken, missing, shattered or jagged," or had "issues with tinting, wipers/washer and mirrors."

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Driving Directions from I-15:
• Take the Pleasant Grove exit 275 from I-15
• Turn North onto Pleasant Grove Blvd
• Turn left onto W. Grove Pkwy
• Quickly turn left into the Synergy/Spaulding Law parking lot.