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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:13 am    Post subject: Safety Inspections Reply with quote


D.C. junks car safety inspections: Will others, too?
By Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY

While budget-strapped governments are hunting down any expendable "fat" in their budgets, some car-safety experts worry that one local government's cutback could trigger a trend that leaves cars with faulty brakes and worn-out wipers on the road.
The District of Columbia recently decided that its periodic motor vehicle safety inspections were flab. Performed at a D.C. facility along with emissions tests, the safety checks were junked for an annual savings of about $400,000. In justifying the cut, the D.C. Council cited a lack of data proving periodic safety inspections save lives.

Safety advocates, who've worked to expand periodic safety inspections beyond the 19 states that still require them, worry that others will decide to rethink the cost. They acknowledge that the way crashes are reported makes good data hard to come by, but argue that the current economy makes it even more important to check that drivers are maintaining their vehicles.

"Safety inspections are particularly needed in hard economic times, because when you're on a tight budget, you tend to skip the badly needed maintenance," says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety advocacy group.

Ditlow estimates that 12% to 33% of all crashes can be tied to poorly maintained cars. He says he prefers inspection programs in which the state does the checks over those using service stations, but says either system helps keep unsafe cars off the road.

Postponing repairs is increasingly common these days, says Bob Redding of the Automotive Service Association. The trade group of independent service businesses, who would stand to gain from more repair work, wants Congress to mandate safety inspections for all states, something it hasn't done since 1976.

However, many consumers in the 19 states — particularly in those where state-approved private garages do the checks — no doubt wish their states would follow D.C.'s lead. Worrying about whether their car will pass — or need immediate costly repairs — makes inspection programs politically unpopular. Drivers also fear being taken advantage of in state programs that rely on private mechanics.

Christine Anderson, a 37-year-old cashier from Bolton Landing, N.Y., says she puts off getting her car inspected every year because the mechanics always find something expensive that needs fixing, like brakes or tires.

"When I failed the inspection, they took my (required) sticker, and I couldn't even drive to get it fixed," she said. "I see no reason for New York to have the inspection, because all it does is make money for the state and the mechanics that get paid to do the checks."

Effectiveness not studied
In cutting its program, D.C. cited the lack of evidence that motor vehicle safety inspections are effective. It's not that there is proof they aren't effective. The subject actually has been little studied — and not recently.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last looked at state inspection programs in 1989, when there was a move to consider a federal mandate. It concluded that periodic checks cut the number of poorly maintained vehicles on the roads. But the research was inconclusive on whether that prevents accidents and saves lives.

The government looked again at safety inspections in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but NHTSA has decided it's still an issue that should be determined by the states, a spokesman said. Changing that would require new legislation from Congress.

While a few states had longtime programs, Congress in 1966 passed the Highway Safety Act that required safety inspections by the states. By 1975, 31 had programs.

That was the peak. In 1976, a new Congress took away the Department of Transportation's authority to withhold highway construction funds from states that were not implementing inspection programs.

With the federal government's ability to punish them gone, several states dropped their programs.

NHTSA has determined that safety inspections remain an issue that can be left to the states. Annual emissions inspections are still federally required for areas with poor air quality, but it is a separate process that looks only at emissions equipment.

Lacking national data, some states with inspection programs have attempted to study the impact and make sure they are spending tax money wisely. Results have been mixed.

Pennsylvania commissioned a study earlier this year of results in the state and determined that about 125 lives are saved each year because of inspections.

However, a Missouri study compared fatality rates in states with inspections and states without and found that states with periodic safety inspections actually have a slightly higher rate than the national average for accidents in which defects were cited as a cause. Missouri's rate was better than the average, though, and it continues to have an inspection program.

State systems vary
What the conflicting studies really prove is that inspection procedures and quality vary widely from state to state, say the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and insurance company State Farm.

Pennsylvania prides itself on one of the most rigorous systems. Every year, vehicles must be taken to a private mechanic approved by the state who performs thorough checks, such as removing the wheels to inspect brake pads.

It is not uncommon in states with that type of system, however, for citizens to complain that despite state approval and oversight, garages can use the threat of failure to get more work.

Other states do as D.C. does: test at state-run facilities. Complaints in those states tend to be about the number and location of test stations and the long lines.

Some states test annually, others every other year.

Ohio does only random tests at inspection checkpoints they set up throughout the state or during motor vehicle stops. It's up to law officers on the scene to decide if a car that fails inspection must be reinspected at a later date. The state doesn't track the effectiveness of its program.

Other states, such as Maryland, test only when a car is sold.

IIHS and State Farm also say that attempts to study the issue have revealed that crash data collected by the federal Fatal Accident Reporting System don't include enough information to accurately assess the role of defective equipment.

The fatality accident data reported by states to the federal government also are skewed by state-specific factors unrelated to the condition of vehicles. California and Florida have the highest rate of fatal crashes, but also have many key risk factors: dense populations, high employment rates (so lots of commuters) and high per-capita levels of vehicle miles per year.

ASA's Redding says such issues could be resolved if NHTSA would make an up-to-date study of the effectiveness of safety inspections a priority. A start, he says, would be for NHTSA to require accurate and uniform state data on crashes caused by vehicle failure.

"The data on this is going to be really hard to assimilate without NHTSA being interested in it," he says.

A skeptical viewpoint

Marc Poitras, an economics professor at the University of Dayton, conducted a study in 2002 on the cost-effectiveness of vehicle inspection systems and ended up skeptical.

"It's a tipoff that the insurance industry doesn't study this," he says. "If inspections were effective, then insurance companies would study these things and be on the lookout for data that would prove they lower costs."

He believes there is some validity to the "Peltzman Effect," a theory that holds that vehicle-safety efforts actually can negate their own impact.

In 1975, Sam Peltzman, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, found evidence that when new safety rules or equipment make drivers feel more protected, the drivers may be inclined to take more risks on the road. It's an argument the auto industry has long used against additional safety mandates.

Poitras says that effect can undermine the effect of inspection programs that force people to fix up their cars. Drivers in poorly maintained clunkers actually may take fewer risks on the highway.

"If you think your brakes are kind of iffy and you can feel they're kind of going, you're going to drive a little safer than if you know they are OK," Poitras says.

What the programs cost

The tight economy has added to the pressure to weigh inspection benefits against the costs for states and their residents. And they are not cheap.

Pennsylvania's safety-inspection program — 11 million inspections a year at 17,000 private garages — costs about $300 million a year. Just $1.5 million is paid by the state. The rest is borne by vehicle owners, who pay $16 or $23 for the safety inspections, depending on the type and age of their vehicles. Emissions testing, where required, is a separate fee.

So far, none of the states still doing inspections is publicly debating dropping them. And some seem to continue simply because they've always done them. Massachusetts started the first state testing in 1926, followed by New York and Maryland in 1927.Pennsylvania has been convinced by its study to stick with safety inspections.

"The commonwealth is certainly continuing to maintain the inspection program, because the program saves lives," says Anita Wasko, director of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for Pennsylvania's department of transportation.

Hal Lewis, owner of H&R Auto Service in Kennett Square, Pa., which does inspections, says the checks have benefits in addition to lives saved. One is that they can end up saving time and money for vehicle owners who would otherwise be tempted to put off a repair and ending up with a more serious problem.

"We save people a lot of grief, breakdowns and unexpected expenses," he says. "It also keeps people informed as to the condition of their cars. Most people don't know anything about their cars."

Lewis also thinks Pennsylvania's study understated the value of safety-inspection programs by looking only at lives saved.

"I actually think it's way under, because it doesn't count the people who didn't die. And the people who didn't get into accidents because their brakes worked. And the people who didn't miss work because their cars worked. What wasn't factored into the study was how much it actually benefits everybody."

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Joined: 27 Jun 2002
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:19 am    Post subject: Re: Safety Inspections Reply with quote

How many people on the board have to get their cars safety inspected? What is your opinion of the testing process and the results?

Also, what do you think of the Peltzman Effect--the idea that if you know your car has potential safety problems you will drive it more cautiously, and that if you believe there are no safety issues you will be more likely to take chances and drive in a more risky manner?

2001 Rainforest Green LX (164,795 miles)--Minnie (The vacationator)
2006 Honda Civic EX with NAVI and 5sp MT (102,338 miles, new block at 89K) (Dan's daily driver)--Blue Car
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Joined: 19 Feb 2005
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Location: Honolulu, HI, USA

PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 9:37 pm    Post subject: Re: Safety Inspections Reply with quote

out here in hawaii it is annual, it is done at a service station, plus its required by local auto insurance.

As for the process:
Lights, blinker, horn, wiper, brakes

Peltzman Effect- well people who drive like morons with or without knowing what is going on with their vehicles.

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