In 2003 I wrote The Politician and Mechanic Conspire to Rip Me Off in which I cited a study (another here) showing that annual automobile safety inspections do not increase safety but do waste time and money and generate unnecessary repairs. I have continued to rant about these wasteful policies ever since.
Today, however, there is some good news. As vehicle quality is increasing, some states are actually discontinuing these “safety” inspections including the District of Columbia in 2009, New Jersey in 2010, and Mississippi in 2015. Repeal, however, is still hotly contested in many states:
“If [the repeal] is passed,” said Texas Senator Eddie Lucero, Jr., “I am going to have trouble sleeping at night. Why are you willing to place yourself and Texans in danger by passing [this repeal]?” Similarly, Utah Representative Jim Dunnigan claimed that many of his constituents “would drive their car until their brakes fall off and their muffler falls off and their tires fall off” and that an inspection was the only way to ensure that vehicle owners took care of potential safety concerns. These claims are backed by most automobile service stations, who generally profit from performing the inspections and now claim that repealing the inspection program “will definitely result in more accidents.”
That’s from a new paper by Hoagland and Woolley that uses New Jersey, a repeal state, to test whether repeal leads to more accidents. Using a synthetic control methodology and precise data on fatal accident rates from throughout the United States, Hoagland and Woolley conclude that:
…removing the requirements resulted in no significant increases in any of traffic fatalities per capita, traffic fatalities due specifically to car failure per capita, or the frequency of accidents due to car failure. Therefore, we conclude that vehicle safety inspections do not represent an efficient use of government funds, and do not appear to have any significantly mitigating effect on the role of car failure in traffic accidents.
It’s time to ditch the annual safety inspection and either move to no inspection system at all or like Maryland move to a system that requires safety inspections only at transfer. I’m not convinced that is necessary either, since at transfer is precisely when the buyer will run an inspection anyway, but at least that system would reduce the number of inspections significantly.
Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.