Report questions value of state vehicle inspections

That $13.60 to $30 you've been paying for vehicle inspections? A state review says there's little evidence the inspections have any value.

A 27-page review by a legislative oversight group said that "no evidence" exists to show the safety inspections are effective, that it's "not possible" to show the effectiveness of emissions inspections that are required in urban counties such as Wake, Durham and Orange and that state Division of Motor Vehicle oversight of inspection stations was inadequate.

The report could lead to legislation ending safety inspections and could free some vehicle owners from emissions inspections.

"This is a program that we need to take to the scrap yard and put on the junk pile," said state Sen. Charlie Albertson, a Duplin County Democrat.

North Carolina has required annual safety inspections for all vehicles since 1966. They cost $13.60. The state began requiring emissions inspections in urban areas 14 years later. They cost $30.

Vehicle owners spend $141 million on inspections in the state, and the report estimates the time spent getting them costs motorists $21 million. The state spends $41 million administering the programs. The majority of the fees go to the garages performing the inspections.

The report found that three decades of research have failed to show mechanical defects are a significant cause of accidents or that inspections significantly reduce accident rates. Safety inspections are no longer tied to federal highway funds, and 15 states, including South Carolina, do not require them.

The report also found little evidence that emissions inspections are improving air quality. New vehicles and those built before 1996 are exempt from testing.

Other findings:

* A check of garages found that mechanics were not performing thorough inspections, spending roughly five minutes per vehicle when they should be taking at least 15 minutes.

* The DMV failed to perform a required annual audit of nearly half the garages that performed only safety inspections.

* The DMV is not analyzing inspections data that would help it better deploy staff and resources.

The report recommended that lawmakers discontinue the safety inspections, limit emissions inspections to vehicles older than three years, as 10 other states have done, and require the DMV to show how it will improve management of the programs.

Carol Gifford, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, said the motorists' club wants to keep the safety inspections in place, citing a recent federal study that found problems with tires and brakes continue to be a factor in crashes. The AAA was less concerned about emissions inspections.