President, New England Service Station and Automotive Repair Association; owns a number of service stations in Greater Boston; Dedham resident
Some motorists may wonder what’s behind the Massachusetts vehicle inspection program and are skeptical of the need for it. So why do we put up with this onerous annual inspection? My organization, the voice of a diverse array of automotive businesses in the region, stands behind this state program. The way we see it, regular vehicle inspections are like an annual physical for your health; it’s better that we spend time on preventative maintenance than ending up paying for more costly emergency repairs later on. Annual inspections motivate people to get these safety issues arising from normal wear and tear resolved.
In addition to costly repairs, the frequency of fatalities and injuries is higher for crashes involving vehicles with defects. According to a study by The University of Texas at Austin, the number of fatalities per number of defective vehicles in crashes is about three times higher than that of vehicles without defects. Another study by Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation found that states with vehicle safety inspection programs have significantly fewer fatal crashes than states without programs.
Annual vehicle inspections are also an economic plus for our state. The present inspection program generates revenue for 1,800 licensed inspection stations across Massachusetts employing thousands of inspectors and generating state revenues.
By encompassing emissions tests, our inspection program also supports Massachusetts’ commitment to good air quality. The health risks of air pollution are extremely serious. Massachusetts is part of the Ozone Transport Region, a group of 11 Northeast states that under the Clean Air Act must implement programs to control ozone levels. Testing air emissions helps ensure that vehicles run as cleanly as they were designed. If an emissions test shows a problem with the emissions control system, the vehicle’s owner is required to make the appropriate repairs. These tests help allow Massachusetts to take advantage of federal highway funds.
So while nobody likes the inconvenience of having their vehicle inspected, think of all the positives the Massachusetts inspection program brings, including vehicle and personal safety, state revenue, countless jobs, federal funding to maintain our highways, and a commitment to good air quality.
Michael P. Sullivan
Plymouth resident, retired electrician and electrical instructor at South Shore Vocational Technical High School
There are two parts to the annual auto inspection to consider, safety and emissions.
The federal government before 1976 mandated states to conduct periodic vehicle safety inspections to be eligible for highway funding. But that year, Congress limited that authority, and many states began discontinuing inspections. In recent years, these safety inspections have only become more controversial. They are a burden to drivers and a waste of time and money with no discernible benefit, which is why many states no longer require them.
Advocates, including those from the auto repair industry, might argue safety inspections reduce accidents and fatalities. Yet research shows most accidents are caused by driver error, not mechanical failure.
As far back as 1977, the US Government Accountability Office released a report: “Effectiveness of Vehicle Safety Inspections Neither Proven Nor Unproven.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded in 1989 that it could not determine whether inspections prevented accidents. More recently, numerous studies have shown that requiring a safety inspection doesn’t lead to lower insurance rates or make driving safer. There is over 40 years of evidence that annual vehicle safety inspections are not beneficial.
Emissions testing is more complicated. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is part of the The Ozone Transport Region, which was established by Congress under the Clean Air Act, and also includes 10 other Northeast states.
States in the region must have vehicle emissions testing programs. But not every vehicle needs testing every year. The frequency and type of emissions tests varies by state. Some states require annual emissions tests. Others, like Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey test every two years. In some states, like Maine and Pennsylvania, testing is only required within certain counties. Some states exempt newer or old vehicles.
Every vehicle owner in Massachusetts at one time or another has bemoaned the dreaded annual auto inspection; the inconvenience, the cost, and the futility of it. Advancements in automotive technology have made vehicles cleaner and safer, making the annual emission and safety inspections unnecessary. Massachusetts can mitigate the financial and logistical burden to vehicle owners by minimizing the emissions testing, and eliminating the safety inspections, as many other states have done.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.