Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent proposal to eliminate required car inspections in Virginia is generating a lot of opposition. Opponents say scrapping the program would increase the presence of unsafe vehicles on Virginia roads and pose a danger to motorists and pedestrians.
The mandatory annual inspection of registered cars and trucks is intended to ensure that vehicles on Virginia roads are safe to operate. The Virginia Automotive Association, which represents auto shops, estimates that eliminating the inspection program would put more than 1 million unsafe cars on Virginia roads.
As a report in the Charlottesville newspaper says, Virginia State Police data show the mandatory inspections forced repairs to more than 1.6 million vehicles in 2018, including many with brake or steering problems. That’s approximately one out of every five vehicles inspected in Virginia in 2018.
Gov. Northam says that by ending mandated vehicle safety inspections, which includes a $20 fee for most vehicles, and cutting vehicle registration fees in half, Virginians would save more than $280 million per year.
His administration is also proposing to increase the state’s motor vehicle fuels tax from about 22 cents per gallon to 34 cents per gallon over three years. This would put Virginia’s fuel tax more in line with taxes in Virginia border states Maryland and North Carolina.
Virginia Requires Annual Safety Inspections
The proposal to eliminate vehicle safety inspections in Virginia was part of the governor’s $135 billion budget proposal for 2020-2022. That means it has a long way to go before becoming reality, if it passes at all.
If vehicle inspections are eliminated in Virginia, the change would take effect in 2021 at the earliest, which means you’ll need to get an inspection in 2020 to comply with the law. If you drive your vehicle without a current inspection sticker, you may be ticketed by law enforcement. A conviction for violating Virginia inspection laws could result in a fine of $81 to $101 with processing fees and be posted to your driving record.
There are approximately 4,200 official vehicle inspection stations statewide in Virginia, according to Virginia State Police.
A state certified inspector at an official inspection station is required to check a vehicle’s:
- Parking brake
- Other lights
- Turn signal
- Steering and suspension
- Tires, wheels and rims
- Windshield and other glass
- Windshield wipers and defroster
- Exhaust system
- License plate light
- Hood and area underneath, including latch, fluid levels and belts
- Air pollution control system
- Driver’s seat (condition, anchorage)
- Seat belts
- Airbag and airbag readiness light
- Fuel system
Inspection stations may charge $20 for most cars, trailers and RVs (motor homes); $12 for motorcycles; and $51 for any tractor truck, truck with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds or more, or large van or bus used to transport passengers and that has a seating capacity of more than 15 passengers.
Do Annual Vehicle Inspections Ensure Highway Safety?
Gov. Northam was dismissive of vehicle inspections in his presentation to the General Assembly. “Data show there is no connection between highway safety and these inspections,” Northam said. “That’s why 35 other states don’t have them.”
According to the Mercury, “Departing Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, a former state trooper, disagreed, saying in an interview that eliminating the inspection program would make Virginia’s roads more dangerous. Carrico said that in his tenure with the Virginia State Police he saw firsthand that cars coming in from states without mandatory inspections were often in bad shape.
“‘People don’t understand when their brakes have run out. They don’t understand when their tires are being run down,’ said Carrico, who did not run for reelection this year. ‘Even with taillights out. Nobody gets out and inspects their car before they drive it.’”
The Mercury’s analysis of state records showed that almost 725,000 vehicles were found to have faulty brakes in 2018. The most common type of defect was problems with steering and suspension, followed by emissions/exhaust system defects.
The Virginia Automotive Association, which represents auto repairs and tire shops throughout the state, said eliminating required inspections would put more than a million “unsafe” vehicles on the roads that weren’t there before.
The governor’s office said state transportation officials studied nationwide crash data from 2008 to 2017 and found “no connection between highway safety and safety inspections.” Crash rates in states without inspections declined by about 8% over that time period, but in Virginia, the crash rate declined by about 2%, according to the Mercury. Of the 10 states with the lowest crash rates, Northam officials said, only three require inspections.
In June 2019, the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research said researchers consistently fail to find any significant reduction in motor vehicle injuries or fatalities in states that have mandatory inspections. It quotes a 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, which found that the existing research “has generally been unable to establish any causal relationship” between inspection requirements and crash rates.
In its most recent study of motor vehicle crash causes, released in March 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said 2% of crashes in the U.S. were attributable to vehicle defects (94% of crashes were attributed to driver error). The most common vehicle defects cited were related to tires/wheels, brakes, steering/suspension and transmission/engine.
Unsafe Vehicles in Virginia and Our ‘Duty of Safety’ to Others
Personal injury law rests on the concept that members of our society have a duty of safety to each other. When we operate a motor vehicle on a public road in Virginia, we have a responsibility to operate the vehicle in a safe manner so as not to endanger others. This includes ensuring the vehicle itself does not present a danger to others.
If 2% of motor vehicle accidents are caused by a faulty part or system in a vehicle, that equates to 2,637 of the 131,848 crashes in Virginia in 2018. Divided evenly across the state, that’s almost 28 per county per year, more than two such crashes a month. So car accidents caused by unsafe vehicles do happen in Virginia.
Even if you continue to have your vehicle inspected on a regular basis, many drivers without a legal incentive to maintain their vehicles will fail to do so. Because of our duty of safety to others, if you are injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s unsafe vehicle, you may have legal recourse. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you understand your legal options to seek compensation for your losses.
Contact Kendall Law Firm in the Charlottesville, VA, Area
If you have been injured in a car wreck in Virginia that was not your fault, an experienced Kendall Personal Injury attorney at the can help you seek full compensation for your losses. We will meet with you for a free initial consultation at our offices in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Staunton or Woodstock and explore your legal options. Contact us today.