New York State Exposed: Car inspections -- are they really about safety?

Posted at: 12/30/2013 9:07 AM
Updated at: 06/06/2014 9:01 AM
By: Nikki Rudd

Vehicle safety inspections. Do they really make our roadways safer?

Over the past few months, News10NBC has looked into inspections, how much the state makes from them and where that money goes. A lot of viewers responded. Some believe inspections are needed.

"I think it's a big safety feature," said driver Rose Rossi-Williams of Henrietta.

Another driver Gregg Thompson of Fairport said, "You want have people driving vehicles that are safe on the road."

Others claim it's all about New York State taking more of your hard-earned money. We even shared stories of possible rip-offs at repair shops.  

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: If inspections are all about safety why is New York one of only 13 states to require them every year? And what if we told you some reports say there's no connection between safety inspections and accident reduction?

Now we're taking a closer look at some studies and the results might surprise you.

Here's a little background:
Before the 1970's Congress required states to have safety inspection programs in order to get federal highway funds. That requirement ended in 1973. As a result dozens of states have repealed car inspections.

The U.S. Census Bureau tracks traffic fatality rates for each state. Among the top five states with the lowest rates: only one of them requires annual safety inspections, Massachusetts. The rest of them including Connecticut and New Jersey don't have them at all.

Massachusetts 0.6 -- Annual Safety Inspections
Connecticut 0.7 -- No Safety Inspections
Minnesota 0.7 -- No Safety Inspections
New Jersey 0.8 -- No Safety Inspections
DC 0.8 -- No Safety Inspections

How about the states with the highest fatality rates? Louisiana and West Virginia require inspections each year. The other three don't.

Montana 2.0  -- No Safety Inspections
Arkansas 1.8 -- No Safety Inspections
Louisiana 1.8 -- Annual Safety Inspections
South Carolina 1.8 -- No Safety Inspections
West Virginia 1.8 - Annual Safety Inspections

So where does New York rank? It has a 0.9 fatality rate, slightly below the national average of 1.1 and annual vehicle inspections are required here.

"There is an assumption that these programs are associated with safety," said John Turcotte.

He says that assumption is incorrect. Turcotte is the Director of the North Carolina General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division (PED). It's an independent, non-partisan group that evaluates state programs.

Click here to see the PED's report on vehicle safety inspections

"What we found overall, was there was no evidence to show that there is a relationship between the safety inspections and any reduction in traffic accidents," Turcotte explained.

Other reports out of Nebraska by the Highway Patrol, DMV, and DOT indicate the same thing. Vehicle defects in crashes were tracked for three years before Nebrasksa got rid of its car inspections. The average was 1,759. The same study was conducted after the inspections were repealed, and the number of vehicle defects involved in crashes actually went down to 1,486.

So are vehicle inspections a waste of your money?

"I'd say it's money spent by the taxpayers including their time toward a program that is not statistically effective," said Turcotte.

The PED also found vehicle defects were identified in less than 1% of accidents. It recommended North Carolina lawmakers repeal safety inspections saying the program has outlived its original purpose.

After reviewing the PED's report, Turcotte says officials in Washington DC repealed the inspection program there.

New Jersey also got rid of inspections in 2010 because of budget cuts. Lawmakers decided the program was costing the state too much money.

But there are many who believe car inspections are necessary in New York.

"In New York State, in all the states around the rust belt, we have inspections because the undercarriage of the car is very important to have someone look at once year," said Paul Marone of East Avenue Auto.

Rust can be a major problem. To our south, Pennsylvania has some of the toughest vehicle safety inspections. A DMV study out of Pennsylvania found states with vehicle inspection programs have significantly less fatal crashes than states without them.

Click here to see the report

But there are some lawmakers in Pennsylvania that call vehicle inspections a half-billion dollar mandate that needs to change.

Senator John Wozniak (D) has been working to exempt new cars from safety testings for the first few years. Something the study from the PED out of North Carolina also recommended and what some of our local lawmakers agreed with in our previous reports.

"If a new car may have a year or two exemption or waiver from a requirement maybe we go to 18 months or every two years to lessen the burden on people," said Senator Ted O'Brien (D) of the 55th Senate District.

We approached AAA on this story. Officials out of New York say it seems like vehicle inspections should improve safety, but research is varied. Now they're encouraging the New York State DMV to review the safety inspection program.

Click here to contact your local lawmakers