Vehicle Inspections (DRB)

Two bills in the 2020 session of the General Assembly would end Virginia's vehicle safety inspection program, a proposal initiated by Gov. Ralph Northam.

You’re at a stop light, waiting for the green, when you notice it: The state inspection sticker in the corner of your windshield, and it expires tomorrow. You almost utter something your mother would have frowned on until you glance in the rearview mirror and see the kids in their carseats and bite your tongue.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry about getting that annual inspection, shelling out 20 bucks for a mechanic to fill out a checklist and slap on a new sticker that you probably won’t look at again until the day before it expires next year?

Well, that’s what Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed in his annual budget, which the General Assembly will take up when it convenes for the 2020 session in a few days at the state Capitol in Richmond. And it’s a bad idea that should be killed immediately.

The governor, in unveiling his budget last month, made the claims that ending annual inspections would save Virginians money and that there’s no correlation between no safety inspections and highway accidents. Both are dubious, to say the least.

According to data from the Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2017 and 2018, 19.9 percent of vehicles inspected were found to have at least one critical safety flaw. Think about that for a moment: One of every five vehicles you encounter on the highway with at least one flaw that could fail at any moment. Bald tires, brakes that need to be replaced, low fluids that could cause the engine to seize on a busy highway, rear brake lights that don’t work.

Under Virginia’s current inspection regimen, the vehicle would be flunked with a “Failed to Pass Inspection” sticker applied to the windshield. The owner would have 30 days to fix the problems and submit the vehicle for another inspection.

But if Northam’s proposal passes the Assembly, the driver likely wouldn’t even know of the problems, endangering himself and everyone else on the road.

And the governor’s claim that there’s no correlation between safety inspections and highway crashes and deaths? Well, the data from other states just doesn’t back it up.

Take the example of Mississippi which eliminated its vehicle inspection program in 2015.

In the three years prior to the program’s elimination, there were 582, 613 and 607 traffic fatalities, respectively, for per-100,000-population death rates of 19.5, 20.49 and 20.7. Not great, but not bad either. From 2015 through 2018, though, the numbers climb dramatically: 677 fatalities and a death rate of 22.52 in 2015; 690 fatalities and a 23.09 rate in both 2016 and 2017; and 664 fatalities with a death rate of 22.2 in 2018.

This data — from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System — establishes a clear link between safe highways and vehicle safety inspections. Mississippi and South Carolina, with no inspection program, have the highest traffic death rates per 100,000 population in the nation at 22.2 and 20.4. Virginia’s 2018 rate — 9.6, well below the national average.

There are two bills in the hopper that would eliminate Virginia’s inspection program: Senate Bill 125, sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), and House Bill 130, sponsored by Del. Joseph McNamara (R-Roanoke).

These bills and Gov. Northam’s proposal are ill-considered, dangerous and inimical to public safety. More people will die on the state’s roadways if they become law. We urge our legislators to kill them immediately.

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