Bland Street Auto

Owner John Quick of Bland Street Auto Center inspects a vehicle at his business in Bluefield, Friday. A bill now in Senate committee in West Virginia would repeal the article mandating state inspections of motor vehicles in the state.

CHARLESTON — Legislation is now in a Senate committee that would repeal the article creating mandatory state inspections of motor vehicles in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 325 is only one sentence long but, if enacted, would end the yearly inspection process required by the state, which has been in place since 1931. 

West Virginia is one of only 11 states (including Virginia) that still require an annual vehicle inspection. Eight other states require inspections under certain circumstances but not annually or for every vehicle.

Two years ago, a bill would have changed the frequency to once every two years in West Virginia, but it did not advance, despite the support of all area legislators.

Del. Ed Evans (D-McDowell County) supported it, but said at the time it is a complicated issue.

“I sit on the transportation and infrastructure committee and it was then changed to every three years,” he said. “People don’t like doing that every year and that’s one side of the coin. The other side is the safety issue.”

Evans said another issue is revenue from local businesses from inspection 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.

In Virginia, a similar bill fell by the wayside lacking enough support among legislators.

Safety concerns was the biggest issue.

Del. James W. “Will” Morefield (R-Tazewell County) wanted 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.”

If the West Virginia inspection program ends, the Senate fiscal summary of the bill said it would eliminate “approximately $4,133,510 of special revenue which fully funds 24 full time, filled positions, all State Police vehicles, and the administration of numerous public safety initiatives.”

Law enforcement agencies have expressed opposition to ending inspections.

The summary also said it would impact garages and other related businesses.

The auto repair industry in Virginia and West Virginia are also opposed to the inspection change.

Tom Estep, owner of Estep Tire & Auto Center in Bluefield, said in a previous story the store has been doing inspections for decades and he thinks they are needed.

“I don’t understand the purpose of it (changing the frequency of inspections),” he said when the attempt was made to require them every two years. “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, and that could impact the safety of other motorists.

“Without an inspection they won’t get it fixed,’ he said.

Sen. Chandler Swope (R-6th District) said he is not sure yet if he will support the bill.

“I’m undecided,” he said. “Annual inspection is excessive. However, no inspections might pose a risk of increased accidents. I’m hoping to hear about a compromise that would allow law enforcement or someone to identify and restrict unsafe vehicles.”

Swope said he has not yet researched the bill.  

Although safety is the primary concern, a review of research on the impact in the 39 states that do not require an annual inspection and the ones that do mostly indicates it is minimal.

According to the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, when researchers dig into the data, “they consistently fail to find any significant reduction in motor vehicle injuries or fatalities in states that have mandatory inspections. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, found that the existing research ‘has generally been unable to establish any causal relationship’ between inspection requirements and crash rates.”

The center said on its website that most state laws that require regular safety inspections for passenger vehicles were passed more than 75 years ago, at a time when motor vehicle fatalities per mile traveled were about 8 times higher than in the 21st century and vehicles lacked many of the safety features vehicle have today.

The report also said requiring an annual inspection has no impact on car insurance rates in those states.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research shows that only 2 percent of crashes are related to some sort of mechanical failure or defect, but no data was available to show how many of those failures or defects would have been corrected by an inspection.

According to the safety administration, there were no detailed inspections of vehicles during the on-scene crash investigation and the vehicle-related critical reasons were “mainly inferred through external visual inspection of the vehicle components.”

The vast majority of crashes, 94 percent, are caused by driver error.

However, a 2018 study by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Department of Motor Vehicles recommended keeping the annual inspection because some accidents, including fatal ones, involved vehicles with defective tires.

“The most prevalent type of defect related to fatal crashes is slick or defective tires.,” the study said. “Interestingly, 23.5 percent of survey respondents identified slick or defective tires as a vehicle element they had been asked to remedy during the course of their vehicle inspection history—meaning that the fatality crash rate would be higher without such inspections.”

The study also pointed out the loss of revenue to the state from the inspections as well as the business created for inspection centers/auto repair shops.

Senate Bill 325 and its companion House Bill 2737 have been sent to each body’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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