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A bill on file in the General Assembly seeks to repeal the requirement that North Carolina vehicles undergo annual safety inspections.
N.C. Rep. Julia C. Howard (R-Davie) filed the bill Thursday and gained a bipartisan set of House co-sponsors, the draft essentially crossing out the existing law’s language mandating the yearly safety inspections that concern vehicles’ brakes, lights, horns, tires, windshield wipers and other components.
A similar bill filed in the Senate by Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson) in 2011 and co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover), among others, had passed its first reading but never re-emerged from the commerce committee assigned to it.
North Carolina began its safety-inspections program in 1966 and, according to the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), is one of only 18 states maintaining one. (The District of Columbia does as well.)
The safety inspection alone costs $13.60, but the state also mandates emissions inspections, bringing the total to $30.
While that generates money for the state, a 2008 report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division questioned the worth.
Titled “Doubtful Return on the Public’s $141 Million Investment in Poorly Managed Vehicle Inspection Programs,” the report noted the programs cost the DMV and the N.C. Division of Air Quality $40.8 million annually to administer.
It also found no evidence of the inspections’ effectiveness, an impossibility to determine how vehicle emissions inspections are helping air quality, and “inadequate” oversight of the programs by the DMV.
The report recommended the state re-evaluate the need for safety inspections and consider exempting vehicles no older than three years from having to go through emissions inspections.
A followup report in 2012 from the Program Evaluation Division said the three-year exemption on emissions inspections would save North Carolina drivers $9.6 million.
Howard’s bill filed last week would, in addition to killing safety inspections, prompt a plan to improve the emission-inspections program, which the legislature’s fiscal research division would also review.
The legislature established emissions inspections in 2002 under the Clean Smokestacks Act and phased counties into the program over the following years, according to the DMV.
The 2012 report did, however, note that eliminating the emissions inspections altogether “would result in a pollutants increase of more than 80,000 tons per year.
“This increase,” the report continued, “would require the state to decrease additional pollutants using other costly alternatives in order to meet federal air quality standards.”
While motorists might rejoice under freedom from inspections, proposals like Howard’s have long met opposition.
A nonprofit group called the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina (IGONC), which targeted Bingham’s ultimately unsuccessful Senate bill in 2011, noted the abolition would mean vehicles on North Carolina’s roadways and in used-car lots wouldn’t have minimum safety standards to meet.
“Safety inspections detect equipment failures that, gone un‐noticed or not repaired, could result in higher accidents,” the group wrote to lawmakers in a letter protesting the 2011 bill.
An IGONC-related website called “Save NC Inspections” also highlighted potential economic impacts, “not only affecting the inspection stations and employees and the industries that support them, but the State of North Carolina, its motoring public, the community college system, volunteer rescue squads, and the N.C. state highway fund will be impacted.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asserts every state should conduct periodic vehicle inspections “to reduce the number of vehicles with existing or potential conditions” that can cause or contribute to accidents.