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Getting your car inspected every year is a hassle, but the safety benefits are worth it, right? Think again. You might be surprised what the research shows. See if the assertions below are fact or fiction.
Safety inspections save lives.
Actually, there is no evidence in the available research that vehicle safety inspection programs reduce accident rates. A state study in 2008 reviewed more than thirty years of independent research. The study concluded that the decades of research “[have] failed to conclusively show that mechanical defects are a significant cause of motor vehicle accidents or that safety inspections significantly reduce accident rates.”[i]
Mechanical defects are responsible for only 1% of all car accidents in NC.
This is a best rough estimate according to NC DMV statistics.[ii] Such a low number of defect related accidents in the first place is part of the reason why some researchers think safety inspection programs are ineffective.[iii]
Mandatory safety measures may affect driver behaviors and lead to riskier driving.
This is known as the Peltzman effect, named after the University of Chicago Professor, Sam Peltzman, who studied the issue in 1975.[iv] His research showed evidence that some drivers feel more protected by safety measures and, as a result, have a tendency to take more risks while driving.
Most states have safety inspections.
As of 2008, NC was one of only 19 states that had safety inspections.[v] There are 16 States that had both safety and emissions inspections, and 15 states with no inspections for vehicles, whatsoever. [vi] Congress mandated that states adopt safety inspections in 1966 or else lose federal highway funds. But Congress dropped the requirement after only ten years in 1976.[vii]
Safety inspections are ineffective and costly.
Combined safety and emissions inspections in NC cost drivers approximately $141 million annually and another $21 million in indirect costs.[viii] This cost is weighed against the findings of the NC Program Evaluation Division that “no evidence exists showing the safety inspection program is effective.”[ix]
Ending safety inspections will devastate garages that perform them because they rely on the inspections to stay in business.
A 2012 state study on emissions inspections found that inspections are not a significant source of revenue for most garages since “only 7% of inspection stations relied on inspections to sustain their business.”[x] The study suggested several options to mitigate adverse consequences for garages, such as altering the division of inspection fees between the state and garages. In any event, subsidizing garages is not the role of a supposed safety requirement.
[i] Program Evaluation Division, North Carolina General Assembly, “Doubtful Return on the Public’s $141 Million Investment in Poorly Managed Vehicle Inspection Program,” p. 15, Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report Number 2008-12-06, December 16, 2008.
[ii] Report Number 2008-12-06, p. 16.
[iii] Report Number 2008-12-06, Appendix B (citing Merrell, D., Poitras, M., & Sutter, D. (1999). The effectiveness of vehicle safety inspections: An analysis using panel data. Southern Economics Journal, 65, 571-583.).
[v] Report Number 2008-12-06, p. 3-4.
[vi] This publication focuses on safety inspections specifically. For more information on emissions inspections in North Carolina, please see: Program Evaluation Division, North Carolina General Assembly, “A Three-Year Emissions Inspection Exemption Would Save North Carolina Motorists $9.6 Million,” Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report Number 2012-05, March 28, 2012.
[vii] Carty, supra.
[viii] Report Number 2008-12-06, p. 9.
[ix] Report Number 2008-12-06, p. 1.
[x] Report Number 2012-05, p. 10-11.