How can we change the conversation for vehicle safety inspection?

Repairers and Consumers Have to Engage With New Messaging to Stop Current Trends

Vehicle repairers have watched a slow hemorrhage of state vehicle safety inspection programs for a number of years.

These programs go back to 1926 beginning with a voluntary program in Massachusetts, and increased to 31 states plus the District of Columbia in 1975. In addition to voluntary programs and mandatory state programs, the federal government, through the Highway Safety Act of 1966, mandated that the U.S. Department of Transportation prescribe uniform standards for state highway safety programs. If states did not comply, it would mean the loss of federal highway dollars for the state. One of the DOT standards was a requirement that states conduct periodic motor vehicle inspections.

Later Congress approved the Highway Safety Act of 1976 which proved to unravel the effort to establish state inspection programs by revoking DOT’s authority to withhold highway funds from states that did not adhere to establishing these programs. Subsequent to this new law, 10 states repealed their inspection programs.

The 1990 Clean Air Amendments encouraged states to establish emissions inspection and maintenance programs to improve air quality. These programs were attacked regularly by the media, political pundits and even by some in the auto industry. Unfortunately, a number of policymakers in safety inspection states took advantage of this movement and compared safety inspection to problems with emissions inspection and maintenance. Arguments against vehicle safety inspection programs included costs to the consumer, inconvenience of the inspection, little evidence that inspection prevented accidents, injuries and deaths, just another tax, etc.

Although programs in Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina survived frequent attacks, the industry saw inspection programs in Mississippi, New Jersey, District of Columbia eliminated. Other state programs survived legislative attacks but were weakened, often moved to longer stretches prior to a required inspection or other changes that diluted the program and its vast protections.

Two states have consistently provided data demonstrating the value of their programs, when compared to non-inspection states, as they related to preventing accidents, injuries and deaths. These states are Pennsylvania and Missouri. Pennsylvania’s state Department of Transportation has gone to great lengths to provide information to policymakers about their program. Repairers, motor vehicle administrators and program providers in many states work together to educate policymakers and consumers about the program.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA), along with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and other members of the automotive aftermarket, held numerous conferences during CARS each year in Las Vegas, Nevada. Of late, ASA held Vehicle Safety Inspection Forums in Pennsylvania and Missouri. Although well attended and had excellent program content, these forums have not prevented the onslaught of attacks on state inspection programs in those states.

This past legislative session in Texas, the inspection program came close to ending after an aggressive legislative push. A state program report is set to come out by the end of this year. It is anticipated that we will see legislation to terminate the Texas program again in this next session. Only after aftermarket groups joined together in opposition to the bill were we able to stop efforts to kill the inspection program.

In Missouri, the authorizing committee approved legislation to end the inspection program as Missouri repairers know it. Missouri’s program has been the template offered to states to demonstrate how a successful program is structured. It would have been very harmful to the future of vehicle safety inspection to have lost the Missouri program. ASA testified against the bill and initiated a grassroots effort to stop it. Other aftermarket associations joined the fight to protect Missouri’s program. The legislature adjourned without passing the legislation and it’s dead for this year.

“ASA is very proud of Missouri repairers that spoke up in opposition to House Bill 1444, legislation that would have eliminated the state vehicle safety inspection program,” said Tom Piippo, AMAM, director of the ASA Mechanical Operations Committee. “ASA presented testimony against HB 1444. This is an example of what repairers can do when they work together for a common goal. In this case, our goal was to protect one of the best vehicle safety inspection programs in the nation.”

So how can we change the conversation about vehicle safety inspection? As repairers, we have to work closer with the aftermarket and other industry colleagues to educate members of the industry, consumers and policymakers about the value of these programs. The last sessions’ industry efforts in Texas and Missouri demonstrate that we can stop these very harmful bills when we join together.

In addition, we have to make a better case as to why these programs should be in all 50 states and not just in less than a third of the states. Data is critically important. We have not always had the data necessary to make the best case for protecting or establishing programs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not been an encourager of these programs despite the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report references to the need for more NHTSA involvement. At a minimum, NHTSA should pursue data relative to programs’ protecting the motoring public from accidents, injuries and deaths.

Whether it’s providing consumers with important information about recall efforts or becoming part of the vehicle safety firewall as new technologies are deployed, i.e. autonomous vehicles, the arguments for these programs need updating. NHTSA has an opportunity to be part of this movement. It’s not too late.

Critical to protecting the existing 15 state inspection programs and initiating any future programs are these key tools:

  • Government Data
  • Industry and Consumer Coalitions
  • Education
  • Advocacy

Unless we take a more aggressive view as to the importance of these programs for safety, they will continue to be at risk and we will likely miss an opportunity to be part of the revolution in automotive technology.

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