Mechanic Performing a Routine Service Inspection

In 2017 and 2018, rejected or unsafe vehicles accounted for nearly 20% of all inspections in Virginia. That translates to around 8.2 million passenger vehicles inspected in each year, with about 1.6 million found to have a defect of some kind.

Because of the state’s 60-year old vehicle safety inspection program, most of those of mechanical ills were fixed during the annual look-over before returning to the state’s roadways, making our streets safer. Yet Gov. Ralph Northam wants to abolish this annual inspection.

Northam’s proposed spending plan for 2020-22 includes a measure to eliminate annual vehicle safety inspections, which he says will save Virginians about $150 million a year. In a budget presentation to the General Assembly’s money committees last week, he said that “data show that there is no connection between highway safety and these inspections.”

A Northam spokeswoman cited these statistics: Of the 10 states with the lowest crash rate, only three require safety inspections. Virginia is not one of these states. Of the five states with the highest crash rate, two require safety inspections. In total, 35 states don’t have inspections.

However, just because other states don’t put a premium on safety doesn’t mean that Virginia should follow suit. The inspections, which state law caps at $20, are a commonsense safety measure. True, it’s hard to quantify how many crashes don’t happen because an inspection caught faulty brakes or required a car owner to replace bald tires. But what price do you put on potential lives saved?

Consider last year’s numbers. In 2018, more than 578,000 vehicles failed inspection and received a rejection sticker, Virginia State Police data show. Another 1 million vehicles were found to have some sort of safety issue, which was repaired during the inspection. Access isn’t an issue: Virginia has 5,433 inspection stations and 15,566 licensed safety inspectors statewide.

“A vast majority of these failures are critical vehicle components such as steering, suspensions, brakes and tires,” the Virginia Automotive Association said in a statement. “Without the program, that is 1,634,740 unsafe vehicles on Virginia’s roadways.”

Legislation has already been filed for the upcoming General Assembly that seeks to do away with the inspections. We hope lawmakers reject this proposal. If the governor wants to increase highway safety, he should keep the annual inspections.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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