Governor orders review of N.C. auto inspection program

She asks DMV for assessment

frkelly@charlotteobserver.comNovember 3, 2011 

Gov. Bev Perdue said Wednesday that she has ordered a full review of the state's auto inspection program.

In a brief interview, Perdue also said the state should consider exempting newer cars and trucks from state-mandated inspections because many are under manufacturer warranties.

The comments follow a series by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer that found garages that inspect vehicles have weakened the program by indifferently passing unsafe cars or swindling customers with unnecessary repairs. The newspapers reported that more than a dozen states have abolished safety inspections since the 1970s and research showed little impact on road safety.

Perdue's statements also come two days after state Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson County Republican, said he would seek support for a proposal that would exclude vehicles 4 years old or newer from annual safety and emissions inspection requirements. Advances in auto safety mean inspections are unneeded for new vehicles, Bingham said.

Perdue, a Democrat, spoke Wednesday during a women's conference in Charlotte.

Afterward she said in the interview that she has asked the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to "give us a detailed assessment of the program." The DMV oversees the inspection system.

Perdue added that an examination is needed because the state wants "to know if we need this kind of system."

Asked if she supports Bingham's idea to exempt newer vehicles, Perdue said she wanted to see the results from the DMV review. But she said newer cars are often under manufacturer warranties, so she did not see why they should be inspected.

In North Carolina, most vehicles under 35 years old must pass safety checks of brakes, wipers and other parts. For nearly half the state's counties, including Mecklenburg, vehicles built in 1996 or later also undergo emissions tests tied to federal clean air rules.

Drivers whose vehicles pass are permitted to renew their auto registration. Those whose vehicles fail must get repairs before they can register their cars.

Motorists have long questioned inspection results, but the Observer series found the program has survived with support from businesses who profit from it and the politicians they influence.

State Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican, blocked a bill earlier this year that would have ended mandatory safety tests. Brown owns two Jacksonville car dealerships and is part owner of another in Mitchell County that received a total of about $177,000 from safety inspection fees during a recent three-year period.

He also received about $50,000 in campaign donations from auto-related businesses in 2010, the highest total for any candidate for state office, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Earlier this week, an email from Brown suggested he believes he did nothing wrong. It came in response to an email from a man upset that Brown did not recuse himself from discussion about the bill.

The email from Brown's account said he would handle matters differently next time. It said Brown would have "the bill moved out of my committee and sent to a different committee. I will also do what I can to have the bill heard and let it be debated on its merits."

Brown did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Clasen-Kelly: 704-358-5027

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