By on March 17, 2011

Fourteen state senators want to do away with safety inspections for vehicles in the North Carolina. Led by state Senator Stan Bingham (R-Denton), the group introduced Senate Bill 123 last month in response to a 2008 legislative report suggesting the benefit of imposing the $165 million annual burden on motorists has yielded no measurable safety benefit.

Each year, the state’s 6.1 million vehicles must be taken to a private station for a $13.60 safety inspection. Vehicles registered in half of the state’s counties must also take a $30 emissions test. The state only keeps 85 cents out of the safety inspection fee, with the remainder kept by the inspector who also earns significant revenue by repairing whatever faults he discovers.

The legislative auditors surveyed available data from around the country and concluded that there is no reliable evidence to show that safety inspections reduce accidents. They looked in particular at states that had such programs and later dropped them. Nebraska’s three-year average number of crashes with inspections in place was 1759. After inspections were dumped in 1982, the three-year average dropped to 1486. In North Carolina, vehicle defects only accounted for the cause of one percent of accidents.

The reliability of the tests is also open to question. Pennsylvania officials took a vehicle with thirteen defects to twenty inspection stations. Most found only flagged seven problems, while some stations invented non-existent defects. In North Carolina, 97.7 percent of tested vehicles passed. Cars between ten and thirty years old failed more often, but they comprised a small portion of the state’s vehicles. The reasons cited for failure most often were defective tires, burned out stop lights, inadequate windshield wipers. A total of 30,238 people were failed because of a burned out license plate light. The auditors found this result did not justify the hassles involved.

“In addition to the price of the inspection, motorists also incur other costs associated with getting an inspection,” the report stated. “Travel time, wait time, and time away from work or other activities are costs incurred by individuals who must get a vehicle inspection. The Program Evaluation Division estimates the indirect costs associated with getting an emissions inspection are approximately $21 million.”

Although the air quality in North Carolina has been improving, the auditors had no way to link the improvement to the emissions testing program. Because federal rules handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) govern the operation of the emissions inspection program, state lawmakers are not entirely free to drop the program without first obtaining EPA approval of their plans. The legislative auditors recommended that at least newer vehicles be exempted from the annual hassle.

“Program Evaluation Division analysis shows newer vehicles are less likely to fail emissions inspections,” the report stated. “Analysis also shows exempting vehicles from the three newest model years does not affect the overall failure rate for the state. By exempting vehicles from the three newest model years, the state would relieve the annual emissions requirement for 19 percent of vehicles.”

A copy of the legislative study is available in a 1mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Doubtful Return on the Publics $141 Million Investment (North Carolina General Assembly, 12/1/2008)


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35 Comments on “North Carolina Considers Dumping Vehicle Safety Inspections...”

  • avatar

    ““Travel time, wait time, and time away from work…” Boy is this ever true in NJ, where the state runs the program and you have to go to a state run inspection center. Back when I lived there they were only open during business hours and until 8 PM on Wednesdays. Is it still the same?
    When I moved to FL I was shocked to discover they had no inspection program. I was worried at first, but I haven’t seen any evidence of accidents caused by faulty systems (I’m sure there are, it’s just a very small percentage), it’s almost always the drivers or road conditions that cause the accidents.
    Some tests I like, the emissions test, and the state workers in NJ used to jack the front of the cars up and grab the tires to check the ball joints. Those are things I couldn’t easily do on my own. Light bulbs and wipers? I can take care of them myself. Maybe there can be a middle ground. If health insurers pay 100% for an annual physical or dental check up then maybe auto insurers could have a minimal auto inspection once a year or every couple of years.

    • 0 avatar

      If only more people cared enough to check their bulbs. My only problem with eliminating inspection programs is that here in Connecticut we regularly see cars with severe accident damage but are marginally drivable on the road with missing headlights, taillights, bumpers, etc. I suppose streamlining our emissions system to include at least a basic safety check would be okay, but we’re so deregulated at this point we aren’t even required to have any external proof of registration on our cars anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      Jimal, here’s the thing though, I see those vehicles in VA and we have inspections also.
      Top of the morning, officer.
      Is there something I can help you with?
      What the hell you driving?
      We had a small fire last night.


    • 0 avatar

      I also live in CT and currently work as an auto appraiser. I know what your saying about cars but there are laws about the infractions you mention and the police can pull over a vehicle for say missing headlight (and often do) They dont use the little reg stickers anymore as they are updating the crusiers with cameras that read the plates, I lived in Maine for awhile which did have inspections and would say that it didn’t help much.

  • avatar

    Good idea on having insurance companies pay for inspections, which would lead to a discount.
    I do suspect a large number of vehicle breakdowns can be attributed to lack of inspection programs.  However, the correlation with accidents is much harder.

  • avatar

    As a NC car owner, I’m all for getting rid of the inspections.  They have recently updated the inspection system to make it electronic instead of requiring a big ugly sticker on the windshield, but I don’t think it has helped efficiency or actual safety at all.  Years ago, I had a car that always had various problems and clearly didn’t meet a strict reading of the safety standards.  So i would shop around for the inspection station most likely to approve my car.  Ultimately, I gave my business to the one where the guy at the counter asked, “Do your headlights work?”  I answered in the affirmative and was issued a new sticker.  This still happens today, although it’s a little tougher due to the electronic records.
    On the other hand, I’m in favor of continuing the emissions inspections.  It would be nice if they excluded cars newer than X years, since emissions are covered under manufacturer warranty and failures that go unresolved are (I’m guessing) a pretty small number.
    Like the article says, the state only gets 85 cents out of what I pay for inspections.  The total figure is determined by the inspection station, and can vary +/- a couple of bucks from $30.  That’s a nice subsidy for Jiffy Lube, but it has very little effect on actual road safety.  I’d rather people were required to spend $30 per year to get re-tested on their driving skills, since that would have a bigger benefit and would take about the same amount of time.

    • 0 avatar

      As an NC motorist, I have to disagree.
      Have you taken a good look at all the chuckleheads on I-40 driving around with bald tires or cyclops headlamps? Don’t get me started with the after-market Xenon cyclops that have started to appear. Yesterday driving home from work at freeway speeds, I happened upon a late-model Honda with a muffler/exhaust dangling approximately 1 cm off of the asphalt.
      That’s with the current, easily dodged, inspection regimen we have already. I’d hate to imagine the type of crap we’d encounter, daily, if this were lifted.

    • 0 avatar

      As another NC resident, even though the inspection process is a PITA, it keeps the worst/least safe cars off the road.  If owners know that their car will be inspected they are forced to proactively make repairs before the car is inspected.
      Growing up in the Midwest I remember my college car having brakes that barely worked at all and would never have worked in an emergency.  My friends cars were often equally dangerous, but we were young and bulletproof and not about to trade our beer money for auto repairs.  Of course we never considered what would happen if a kid stepped out in front of our car and our bald tires would not swerve and bad brakes would not stop.
      Auto inspections may have been a good substitute for my bad judgment then and the bad judgment (or ignorance/indifference/selfishness) of others today.

  • avatar

    Maryland requires emissions testing.
    The only standard for a post OBD II vehicle is whether the CEL is on.  For pre OBD II vehicles the car is hooked up to an exhaust sniffing machine.  The standards are so loose that pretty much any car with a cat passes.  My 15 year old beater Honda passed by a factor of 20, until it starting to burn oil and smell like sulfur which was reflected in its only passing by a factor of 4 right before I sold it.  Those stinking 80s Euro diesels are exempt.

    Inspections are performed by the state, so of course the test itself consists of idling in line for an hour or so, along with 6 lanes of other people who are also forced to waste their Saturday morning.
    I’d feel somewhat less put upon by the waste of time if this meant a standard for other people’s tread depth, brakes, or lights.  But protection from the big bad exhaust pipe of a 2005 Camry? Seriously?
    That’s liberals.  One person shits so we all need diapers.

  • avatar

    D.C. dumped it for the same reason, there is no tangible benefit. Florida briefly flirted with it in the ’80s’ and dropped inspections shortly after because it was just a gigantic bureaucratic hassle. These things are nothing but $$$ makers for states, inspectors, etc.

    The smog inspections are different, the Fed requires them based on EPA air quality statistics. If a state tries to ditch it in a designated area, the Fed highway matching funds to the state are jeopardized. I honestly don’t think smog inspections accomplish anything either, except for lining someone’s pockets.

  • avatar

    I think inspections have been watered down to emissions to the detriment of general safety.  No one checking brakes, headlight aim, tire condition, major rust and at least basic emissions signals a complete lack of appreciation for the responsibilities driving entails.  Maybe laws to tighten up inspections and crack down on stations trying to extort work would be more in the public interest than collectively lowering us into the third world under the guise of saving a nickel when we’re hemorrhaging millions. If you want to make things safer, get rid of speed traps and red light cameras that disrupt traffic flow, and ensure all traffic on a road can travel at the same speed. Granted, that may lose some money, but government shouldn’t be a profit machine; that’s why we pay taxes, license and inspection fees.

  • avatar

    I’m for inspections. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to swerve around somebody’s old muffler that has fallen of their ’82 Grand Marquis. People in Michigan really let their cars go. It’s not limited to the aforementioned Mercury. I see many older Mercedes with broken springs, loose ball joints, tie rods, etc.. that are a danger to themselves and others. If the repair shops did it, I can see how it would run into issues. The repair shop would have a strong incentive to up sell repairs that did not need to be repaired.

  • avatar

    Americans have shown time and again an inability to spend money on the things that are paramount to their well being.  If a one-hour, $30 investment in an annual car inspection is what it takes to get people to stop driving with bald tires, burnt out lightbulbs or worn brakes, then count me in.

    As long as my kids’ safety depends on the condition of every yahoo’s vehicle, then inspections are the way to go.  I can see skipping them the first 3 years of a car’s life, but beyond that this is essential.

    • 0 avatar

      I live in FL and let me tell you there are some real POS on the road here. If you can afford a car you should be able to afford simple maintenance on safety items like tires, brakes & lights. I agree that since it a government thing, thus its a mess, but just like the DMV and taxes its just part of life. I’d gladly give up some time and money for the reassurance that the idiot next to me on I-95 going 80 mph has had a vehicle inspection done recently.

  • avatar

    Safety improvement or not, I think there is still some public benefit in having vehicles with serviceable brakes and tires and functioning lights.

  • avatar

    Indiana did away with safety inspections in the 80’s. You should see some of the junk on our roads. I regularly see vehicles stopped on the roadside with one wheel skewed so far as to be undriveable. Sometimes hanging clear out of the wheel well if the ball joint breaks too. So far I’m lucky to see the aftermath. I don’t want to be running next to them when it goes. In this economy service facilities can use any additional work and taking some of the trash off the road is a bonus.

  • avatar

    I’m all for ditching NC emissions and safety inspections.  It’s a pain, and I see just as many crapcans on the road here as I did living in no-inspection states.
    Also, hypothetically speaking, getting rid of these inspections would save me the runaround of keeping any technically “illegal” yet perfectly safe vehicles that I may or may not own registered in other states.  Hypothetically, of course.

  • avatar

    A few drivers are too ignorant to realize the danger posed to themselves and others, by driving defective vehicles, but the majority keep their vehicles fairly safe. When it comes to mandatory inspections, two stories come to mind. My Buddy, an independent courier, had his otherwise pristine delivery van, fail inspection due to light burned out behind fan control. When he asked if they could just replace the bulb and pass it, the reply was that it had to fail, get fixed and be re-inspected. At a cost, of course. On the other side of town, a large courier company, had a van passed, that had the back doors sealed shut with duct tape. They were so worn that they were useless, but this van passed. the inspection was being done by the Truck dealership that did all the fleet maintenance for the company.

  • avatar

    If you really want to enhance driving safety, perform the following inspection:
    1) Hand held cell phone, makeup, cigarettes, newspaper, Slurpee, Egg McMuffin are stored in the trunk or otherwise out of reach.
    2) Nav system off and internet connection disabled.
    3) Driver is reasonably sober and hasn’t gone more than 20 hours without sleep.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      The Holy Grail.  If only people could see this.  I mean the ones doing these things in their rolling restaurants, nurseries (kids in the trunk too?), phone booths, offices, etc.

  • avatar

    It isn’t very often that we see moves toward less government. Cheers to NC!

  • avatar

    Think safety inspections are difficult here? Try Germany’s TUV or the UK’s MoT.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I had Citroen CX retired by TUV.  It has rust on a rocker panel that could be penetrated by poking at it really hard with a screwdriver.  It looked kind of OK before the inspection, but the guy punctured my car and said, “you have a rust hole.  It fails until you get that fixed.”  Then he gave me a list of somewhat more significant things to fix – none of which would fail a car in NC by the way – that would have cost me far more than I could afford at the time.
      As with all things driving-related in Germany, the higher standard does provide a safer motoring environment.  But to a 22-year-old musician losing his car, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.

    • 0 avatar

      The answer isn’t eliminating safety inspections, it’s making them more strict and inspecting more things.  I’d be all for TÜV inspections here.  Take 25% of the vehicles off the road due to failed inspections… less traffic for me to have to deal with.

  • avatar

    They gave up inspecting cars here in Arkansas about 10 years ago, and aside from the occasional burned out tail/headlight, there’s not much change in my perception of safety.  I agree our roads would be much safer if cell phones and video screens were banned from cars.  I saw someone in a truck yesterday watching a movie on his iPhone while holding it on his the steering wheel.  At least he was using both hands.

  • avatar

    Inspections are generally a scam.  Yearly inspections just can’t be comprehensive enough if they’re cheap enough to do yearly.  People with crap cars will find the way to end run the requirements, and people with fine cars will get dinged for profit-making garbage repairs.  A price of 30 bucks isn’t enough to buy a worthwhile inspection, so at best it’s a ‘highlight’ inspection.
    Maryland has a different system.  Yearly inspections are not required.  Emissions testing (now reduced to OBD-II readings) is required every other year.  In place of the yearly safety inspection, Maryland requires a full vehicle inspection to transfer title.  These are usually on the order of a 1.5 hour inspection, and cost the station’s labor rate for that time.
    And even these have a general whiff of a scam.  “Headlight Adjustment” is *always* required, to the point of one of the consumer investigators at a TV station took the same car through a few inspections, one after the other, and all but one said it needed a headlight adjustment… after it had gotten a headlight adjustment at the previous inspection!  It was to the point where I saw some garages offering “Free Headlight Adjustment with inspection!” on their signs.
    But still, I think that a more thorough inspection before you pawn it off on someone else is a lot better than a 15-minute inspection where you either have to be Superman to check everything or it’s just a superficial inspection.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Ten bucks in the cultural backwater of MO for a safety peek every couple years.
    Two counties have a smog sniff.
    If only the burned-out light bulb appearing above the mob’s heads to indicate their thinking-about-their-driving mental activity would be replaced when that activity ceases (all-too-often) I would revel and huzzah with glee.

  • avatar

    In too many places the regulations border on harassment – in PA, for many years, a hole in the sheetmetal (commonplace in the Rust Belt) was reason to condemn a car.  Bondo, or junkpile.
    In states I’ve lived in that did NOT have a safety inspection…MOST motorists DID stay on top of things.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to die, nasty, in a car wreck…obviously.
    The few owners who don’t care are the ones who’ll shop around to find an inspection outlet that will “hook them up” for a few extra $$$.  Morality cannot be legislated; nor common sense.
    The best solution I’d seen was with Ohio’s Highway Patrol and its random safety inspections.  Done on the side of the road; you pass or get a ticket that is waived with repairs.  Inconvenience is (or was) minimal.
    People do all kinds of stupid things:  They don’t eat right; they drink too much; they spend their money on lottery tickets.  Government cannot step in there to do their thinking for them on basic personal decisions.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Laws requiring properly working equipment remain in force.  People can be  — and are — stopped and cited for having non-working headlights, etc.
    While, of course, the need to eliminate defective cars from the highway sounds great, but the cost of doing so — considering the number that are sufficiently defective to make a difference — is quite high.
    In Virginia, these inspections are done by service stations, and the price they are allowed to charge doesn’t cover their cost.  So, guess how many headlights turn out to need alignment, how many ball joints turn out to need replacing, etc.?  Of course, you can “appeal” by taking your car to have it inspected by a public employee . . . but who want to suffer that hassle, for a relatively small charge?
    Here in DC, the last time I had my BMW in, they failed me for bad brakes.  I had just had the car serviced and I knew there was nothing wrong, but I went back to the shop just in case. 
    They re-checked the brakes and gave me a written statement saying they were not worn/defective.  So, I had to go back for the re-inspection and I had the statement just in case.  This time, there was no problem.
    My explanation?  The dedicated civil servants at the inspection station just decided to give a guy with a sports car some shit . . . and they did.

  • avatar

    Inspection programs run out of independent shops have the potential for ripping off the customer, but overall I think both safety and emissions should be mandated in all states.  Yes, there are states that do both – like mine – despite what one has said on this site in the past.  Ripoffs could be minimized by having ringers sent to shops to detect scammers.  Hit them with a serious penalty and the will likely not be tempted to screw the customer.
    Way too many folks drive with unsafe cars.  Some do so out of ignorance, others do so because they don’t want to spend any money.  Half the cars in the wrecking yard still sport the original struts.  It is just an unfortunate fact that some will not pay for safety repairs unless forced to.    Sure plenty do, but why should people be exposed to unecessary risks over somebody’s cheapness?  Rich conservatives shouldn’t care; most drive new(er) cars that don’t need inspections…

    • 0 avatar

      FWIW, “conservatives” occupy the middle of the spectrum.
      The very poor, the very rich, the absymally stupid and the criminally clever…gravitate towards “liberalism.”
      Just look at the income of Jeff Immelt, Bill Gates, Eric Schmitt and dozens of others in their income bracket.
      The inspection racket is, at best, a nuisance; at worst, it’s a gateway to ripoffs.  Laws requiring safe equipment remain in effect; and REASONABLE people comply with those issues.
      Someone who is not so prudent…isn’t going to change his tires anyway, until his sticker expires.  That can be a long time; and he may well borrow good tires to pass.  Or offer the inspector another twenty…which happens more than you realize.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry.  I was having a childish reaction to aspade above.

    • 0 avatar

      Rich conservatives shouldn’t care; most drive new(er) cars that don’t need inspections…
      That’s exactly it.  I already inspect my cars.  Not because it’s the law – which it isn’t in this state – but because it’s the responsible thing to do.
      Being ordered to do it again as if I’m a dependent child who would drive on exposed belts without Father Knows Best marching me down to the garage is offensive.  Stop punishing me for what other people might do.

  • avatar

    I see alot of posts from people wanting inspections “for the children.” We have only cursory inspections in MS and they only cost $5. However, as with all things, if you really need a sticker then you can usually buy one sight-unseen for $20. The point is that these people riding around on bald tires & dragging mufflers probably aren’t doing so out of laziness but of something called BEING BROKE. In their case, they are going to drive with or without an inspection. Having them is just another way for the gov’t to milk us for a few more bucks in exchange for a fleeting impression of “safety” that fails to stand up to hard scrutiny.

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