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North Carolina May End Vehicle Inspections


Published: Monday, August 24, 2009

Updated: Monday, August 24, 2009 17:08

North Carolina May End Vehicle Inspections

Ciara Wymbs

John Barnhart, an auto hobby shop mechanic, checks the registration and the inspection sheet for a vehicle last week.

North Carolina lawmakers may repeal the state's required annual motor vehicle safety inspections.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, July 28 debated a measure its sponsor said would save owners more than $12 a year on each vehicle. Sen. Charlie Albertson of Duplin County said residents spend more than $80 million a year for inspections of tires, brakes, lights and other safety equipment.

Albertson said a report by the Legislature's Program Evaluation Division found no proof inspections improve road safety, and no increase in accidents after South Carolina and Nebraska repealed their inspection laws.

The report by the Program Evaluation Division suggests that given improvements in seat belts, air bags and other safety features and the fact that only a small percentage of cars fail the tests, a safety inspection may no longer make sense. It recommends that lawmakers reevaluate both programs and either repeal the safety inspection program or at least exempt newer vehicles. The report also criticizes state oversight of the programs.

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee asked the Program Evaluation Division to study the programs.

North Carolinians face two types of inspections: a safety inspection of various mechanical systems required by state law in all 100 counties for vehicles less than 35 years old; and a diagnostic emissions inspection to ensure proper functioning of pollution controls for all 1996 and newer model year vehicles. Only vehicles registered in 48 counties are subject to the emissions inspection.

North Carolinians spend $141 million annually on inspections. It costs the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Division of Air Quality $40.8 million to administer both inspection programs.

Out of the state's total 6.3 million inspections, 1.9 million are safety-only and 4.4 million are emissions inspections.

Failed inspections accounted for only 5 percent of all inspections overall. Vehicles failing the safety inspection were most likely to have defective tires (26%), stoplights (20%), windshield wipers (20%), license plate lights (15%) or steering mechanisms (14%), according to the report.

Among the 33 states with an emissions inspection program, 21 states exempt at least current model year vehicles from inspection; 10 states exempt at least vehicles from the three newest model years. North Carolina only exempts current model year vehicles from its inspection programs.

The researchers looked at whether the safety and emissions inspection programs are identifying mechanical defects and requiring their repair to keep unsafe cars from operating on North Carolina roadways, thereby reducing loss of life and property damage; and controlling the pollutants from mobile source emissions.

North Carolina's crash data from the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) shows the number of cases in which a vehicle's mechanical condition may have contributed to an accident was only 1 percent of all crashes statewide.

"Furthermore, because law enforcement personnel are not mechanics and receive a minimal amount of training in compiling and reporting accident data, it is unlikely a true assessment of how many accidents result from mechanical defects is possible," the report says. As for the emissions program, the researchers did find that in 2007—a year marked by severe drought and record-breaking heat— North Carolina violated ozone level on 66 days, compared to 101 "bad ozone" days a decade ago. However, the report says it is "not clear how much of the improvement can be attributed to the mobile emissions inspection program."

The report criticizes a lack of thoroughness and uniformity in current auto inspections from inspection state to inspection station. While a complete inspection should take between 15 and 30 minutes, the researchers found, on average, inspections fail to meet this standard and there is "a wide fluctuation in inspection duration."

"Given the average inspection lasted between five and six minutes, it is questionable how thorough an inspection the average consumer is receiving," the report says.

The auditors found that technicians cheated on the inspections, sometimes omitting several required steps. During one of the observations, the technician told the customer that even if there was something wrong with the customer's vehicle, he would still pass it because this customer is a "regular."

Older vehicles are more likely to fail safety and emissions inspections. For safety inspections, vehicles from model year 1981 to 2001 had a higher failure rate than the overall safety failure rate (3.3%), whereas vehicles from model year 2002 and newer had lower failure rates.

Similar results were found for emissions inspections. Vehicles from model year 1996 to 2001 had a higher failure rate than the overall emissions failure rate (2.6%), whereas failure rates for vehicles from model year 2002 to 2007 were lower.

"These findings indicate greater emphasis should be placed on monitoring the safety components and emissions functioning of older vehicles," the report says.

The report recommends that because newer vehicles (model years 2002-2007) were found to be less likely to fail inspection, "it may be unnecessary to require them to undergo annual safety and emissions inspections."

If the state repealed the safety inspection program, it would lose $2 million in fees. But citizens could save as much as $33 million in inspection related costs a year, according to the report.

Exempting older vehicles (three newest model years) from a safety inspection would affect about 15 percent of the state's car owners and cost the state only $143,000 in fees. The analysis suggests that this exemption would not reduce the inspection program effectiveness.

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7 comments Log in to Comment

Sat Jun 5 2010 15:51
I Agree with Anonymous it is all about the money I hate it I say get rid of it. You have to buy A brand new car or A old car because if the check engine light comes on you better be ready to pay out A big bunch of money out or you can't get A tag or inspection so therefore you are driving legal.
Sun May 16 2010 11:15
I hate the Emissions Inspections Please get rid of them.
Thu Apr 22 2010 18:21
I think the inspections should be done away with. Have tickets given to those people that drive vehicles that smoke up the whole area when they go by. They are the real ones that pollute the environment.
Thu Apr 22 2010 14:04
Sounds like a lot of upset mechanics and big brother types crying about the possible loss of this law. AS STATED IN THE STORY, ONLY 1% OF VEHICLE ACCIDENTS WERE CAUSED BY MECHANICAL FAILURE. Vehicle inspections are only a tax, it's about the money NOT safety. This is a bad tax that most states have recognized and done away with.
Wed Mar 3 2010 20:44
Doing away with vehicle inspections is not wise and will open up a Pandora's box allowing a myriad of improperly
maintained and equipped vehicles to run unregulated all over the state. What's to prevent motorists from removing emission control devices, catalytic converters,mufflers,and running on bald tries,ect...? How will the state determine that vehicles are mechanically complying with DMV regulations and EPA pollution regulations? One thing is for sure. It ain't gonna happen if nobody monitors the situation. Is the burden going to shifted to the police, who are as mentioned in this report, are not mechanics? if inspection technicians are not doing their job they should be fined and removed from the system.
Sat Feb 20 2010 23:47
nc sucks its all about the money not clean air! STOP THESE EMISSIONS INSPECTIONS ALL CARS 96 AND ABOVE ARE THE SAFEST EVER
Tue Aug 25 2009 15:02
Most of the developed world requires safety inspections on all motorized vehicles. Many people do not take proper maintenance care of there vehicle and is only after failing the safety inspection do they have them repaired. At least you get your car inspected for the $12.00 fee. What do you actually get for all the taxs you pay!

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