House bills would end some car inspections, delay ferry tolls, cap gas tax

Other proposals would delay ferry tolls and cap the gas tax May 1, 2012 

  • Inspections required now North Carolina requires yearly safety inspections for vehicles less than 35 years old, for a fee of $13.60. Emissions inspections, which check the vehicle’s on-board computer diagnostic system, are required in 48 mostly urban counties for nondiesel cars and light-duty trucks after the 1995 model year. The fee is $30. The proposal announced Tuesday would exempt an estimated 472,727 vehicles from emissions inspections and 755,213 from safety inspections. Source: NC DMV

— House Republicans proposed legislation Tuesday that would end North Carolina’s required safety and emissions inspections for hundreds of thousands of cars and light trucks that are three years old or newer.

Air quality and motor vehicle regulators have assured legislators that the change would not cause pollution or safety problems, because newer vehicles rarely flunk the required inspections.

“By eliminating the need for these inspections during the first three years, you’ll be giving the consumer a break at a time I think they need it,” said Rep. Ric Killian, a Charlotte Republican. Killian is co-chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, which released a handful of draft bills for consideration in the General Assembly session that starts May 16.

Also aired Tuesday were proposals to:

• Cap the state gas tax at 37.5 cents per gallon. That is roughly the rate to which the tax is expected to fall in July, based on a legislative formula that rises and falls with changes in wholesale fuel prices. Legislators could not agree last year on a proposal, passed by the House and ignored by the Senate, to cap the tax at its 2011 rate of 35 cents. So it rose in January to its current 38.9 cents.

• Postpone until July 2013 new ferry tolls ordered by the General Assembly last year. That’s even longer than a one-year moratorium announced by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in February and denounced by Republican leaders in both chambers.

House Republicans are sympathetic to calls from ferry-dependent coastal communities to delay new charges on two commuter ferries that now are toll-free and to increase toll rates on three other ferries. But Senate Republicans have not yet agreed to this.

The House legislation would require the state Department of Transportation to find $2.5 million in savings during the fiscal year that starts July 1 to make up for lost toll revenue.

Perdue and legislative leaders called for a reappraisal of the vehicle inspection program last year after a series of stories in The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer raised questions about whether the inspections are reliable, effective and necessary.

There have been calls in the past to curtail the required inspections, but the proposals were killed by legislative allies of garage owners who make their living inspecting cars. Tom Crosby, a spokesman for the Charlotte-based AAA Carolinas motor club, agreed that it was time to end emissions inspections for recent-model cars, because they rarely are found to have problems. But he said North Carolina should not cut back on the yearly safety checks for faulty brakes, worn tires and other hazards.

“We know people in today’s society do not pay attention to their cars,” Crosby said.

Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake County Democrat and member of the subcommittee, said he wanted to hear from inspection station operators about what safety problems they find in recent-model cars.

The Department of Transportation and the state Division of Air Quality told a legislative committee in March that cars no more than three years old do not need to be subjected to emissions inspections. The inspections are part of North Carolina’s clean-air program, monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“By not testing the first three model years, that won’t hurt our compliance in the eyes of EPA at all,” Tom Mather, spokesman for the state Division of Air Quality, said Tuesday.

Senate Republican leaders declined to comment on the House proposals on ferry tolls, gas taxes and car inspections. Sen. Kathy Harrington of Gaston County, who co-chairs the Senate’s transportation appropriations subcommittee, said she would wait to see what the House does.

Charlotte Observer reporter Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.

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