A proposal in the Missouri legislature would do away with mandatory vehicle safety inspections.

State Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, speaks on the Missouri House floor (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Currently, state law requires mechanical inspections every other year once a vehicle is five years old, with certain exceptions. They’re also necessary in order to renew a motor vehicle license.

During a hearing of the House Transportation Committee in Jefferson City, Republican Representative J. Eggleston of Maysville, the bill’s sponsor, noted 34 states do not have mandatory inspections in place.

He presented the committee with insurance data he gathered that showed inspections have no influence on fatality rates in states.  “There really doesn’t seem to be, at that glance, any correlation between safety inspections and actual safety,” said Eggleston.

The two-term northwest Missouri state representative said road safety is chiefly affected by conditions outlined in a recent report from a legislative task force on transportation – seat belt usage, distracted driving from handheld devices and impaired driving – as well as speeds traveled.

Eggleston also presented the committee with research on traffic fatalities in New Jersey, which eliminated vehicle safety inspections in 2010.  “The numbers after inspections are actually as good or better than the numbers before they got rid of inspections,” Eggleston said.  “I don’t think that not inspecting makes a car safer.  But I think that does show the irrelevance of the car inspections.”

Eggleston received support on the committee from Republican Kevin Corlew of Kansas City, who also chaired the transportation task force.  Corlew thinks the state government overly burdens its citizens with unnecessary and time-consuming requirements.

“I think just in the pure frustration that we put onto our citizens if this really doesn’t have a strong correlation to safety, I think it’s certainly worth a discussion to have.”

Republican Representative Tom Hurst of Meta said vehicle inspections are troubling because their results vary widely, depending on where they’re performed.  He described a situation where a dealership had given his Jeep approval during an inspection, but a week later after he brought it back because a sound he was hearing, told him his brakes were shot.

Only one interest group, the Missouri Farm Bureau, came out in favor of repealing vehicle safety inspections at the committee hearing.  A spokesperson said the Bureau’s policy state’s that the examinations don’t improve highway safety.

David Overfelt, Executive Director of the Missouri Tire Industry Association and the Missouri Retailers Association, told the committee that drivers would neglect wear and tear items without mandatory inspections.

“Tires and breaks, they’re very important,” said Overfelt.  “We really feel that there would be so many constituents out there driving on bald tires if they never had to worry about getting inspections, or would not replace those tires until they were so shot that they couldn’t keep air.”

Overfelt noted that a federal law established in the 1960’s requiring safety inspections was repealed in 1976 under pressure from numerous states.  He also stated that a study conducted by the state of Pennsylvania showed fatalities would increase by 130-to-180 persons a year if its safety inspections were done away with.

States requiring periodic safety inspections are largely congregated on the east coast, bordered by North Carolina to the south and Maine in the northeast.  Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to the south of Missouri and Utah to the west also conduct mandatory inspections.

Ronald Reiling, Executive Director of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Missouri directly rebutted the claim by Representative Eggleston that there is no connection between safety inspections and fatality rates.  “States that do not have the safety inspection program, their fatality rate due to mechanical failure, is twice as much as Missouri is,” said Reiling.

Mike Right with the American Automobile Association of Missouri said his organization opposes the measure because it considers the inspections a plank in the overall traffic safety platform of the state.

“In addition to providing some assurance of the roadworthiness of the vehicle fleet, it also provides significant consumer protection for anybody who is purchasing a used vehicle.”

The bill was also opposed by Ben Steinman of Ben’s Auto Body in mid-Missouri’s Mexico.

The state would lose nearly $4 million in fees per year if the vehicle inspection law were to be repealed.  The $12 fee for an inspection largely goes to cover the cost incurred dealership or shop performing the examination.

According to bill sponsor Representative Eggleston, about $1.50 of the fee is directed to the Missouri State Highway Patrol which oversees the inspection process and prints out the renewal decals, with a small portion going to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The bill would not impact emissions inspections, which are required for residents who live four St. Louis area counties – St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin, and Jefferson.