CHARLESTON — Bills now working their way through legislative bodies in both Virginia and West Virginia would change the frequency of state inspections for motor vehicles.
If passed and signed by the respective governors, residents would be required to obtain mandatory vehicle inspections every two years, not every year as it is now. The cost of an inspection would also increase in West Virginia, from $3 to $6 for the cost of the sticker itself, and from $14 to $17 for the inspection, but that expense would be every other year.
In West Virginia, the original bill wanted to change from one inspection a year to one every three years, but the Finance Committee changed it to two years.
“I voted for it in the Finance Committee,” said Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer County, said of the two years.
Fellow delegates John Shott and Eric Porterfield also support the bill, with Porterfield one of the sponsors.
Del. Ed Evans, D-Mc-Dowell County, said it’s a complicated issue.
“I sit on the transportation and infrastructure committee and it was passed for every three years,” he said. “People don’t like doing that (an inspection) every year and that’s one side of the coin. The other side is the safety issue.”
Evans said another factor is revenue that local businesses receive from inspections and subsequent repairs.
“I received an email from a business that said they really depend on that revenue and it keeps two people employed,” he said.
Although public demand and the cost of bureaucracy for the program have helped spur the movement not only here, but around the country, to take another look at the need for inspections, many disagree with the proposal.
Tom Estep, owner of Estep Tire & Auto Center in Bluefield, said the store has been doing inspections for the 31 years he has been in business and he thinks they are needed.
“I don’t understand the purpose of it (changing the frequency of inspections),” he said. “My question is, why? What is the justification?”
Estep said it’s a matter of safety, especially now with so many older vehicles on the road that may have issues impacting the safety of other motorists.
“Without an inspection they may not get fixed,’ he said.
Estep said it’s also a matter of the state losing tax revenue, not only from the inspections but also from related repairs that may otherwise not get done.
Connie Sparks has worked at Estep for 14 years and she said they do about 100 inspections a month.
To her, it’s all about safety.
“If I have bad tires or bad brakes, I want to know about it,” she said.
Sparks said most customers who have problems on their cars don’t know about it and want them to be fixed.
The bill was scheduled for first reading in the House on Monday.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam wanted to end inspections all together, but a committee nixed that idea and a compromise was reached to every other year.
The compromise was part of a transportation bill that would also ban holding a cellphone while driving, ban open containers of alcohol in a vehicle’s passenger area, empower police to pull motorists over for failing to wear a seat belt, allow speed cameras in designated highway safety zones and let localities enact lower speed limits on their streets.
That package has not yet been voted on in the House.
However, Del. James W. “Will” Morefield wants to keep the inspections the way they are.
“I do not support eliminating the auto inspection or reducing the frequency of inspections,” he said. “I consider what is being proposed extremely dangerous. We must not risk lives by increasing the number of unsafe vehicles on Virginia’s roadways.”
Morefield also pointed out the age of vehicles on the road.
“The average vehicle on the road is now over a decade old,” he said. “We all know someone who operates a vehicle with bald tires and bad brakes. An auto inspection helps make our roadways more safe.”
The auto repair industry in Virginia is also opposed to the inspection change.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com