Maintaining a vehicle in Texas could become less costly if Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) has his way. Speaking in front of the Senate Transportation Committee in January, Huffines said the state’s vehicle inspection program is nothing but a money grab that provides absolutely no benefit to the community or consumers.
“There are 35 states that do not require passenger vehicle safety inspections and there’s a reason for that. Because they know, and studies have proven academic and government studies have proven: It’s not about safety. It’s just basically about making money. It’s a government mandate to tax the citizens of the state of Texas,” said Huffines, a Texas Senate District 16 Republican.
Mark Lisheron, writing for Watchdog.org, confirms that allegation. State officials have “no idea if its $275 million vehicle inspection program is doing what it is supposed to do, or ever has as far as anyone can tell.”
$150 million unreturned to the state
The state’s vehicle inspection program “returns just $125 million of the $275 million generated in fees back to the state,” writes Lisheron, adding that the Texas Department of Public Safety has never conducted “a single audit or study” to determine whether the program improves driver safety.
If you want to know if the program is effective, you essentially have to take the state’s word on it, according to one of the only national studies on the efficacy of vehicle inspection programs, completed by the Government Accountability Office in August 2015.
The Texas State Inspection Association (TSIA) says the program is necessary in order to protect drivers before they get behind the wheel.
“If you’re a single parent and you’re out there working day in and day out and you depend on your vehicle to go to and from work and you know absolutely nothing about the care, feeding and maintenance of your vehicle. We provide a service that is not there with the intention of trying to making dollar. We provide a service with the intention of making sure you’re able to get to work in a safe manner,” said Mike Nowels of TSIA.
But there’s little to no evidence to back that theory up. The program’s cost and effectiveness “are difficult to quantify,” said the GAO in their report.
Huffines introduced a bill to eliminate state vehicle inspections in March 2015 but it was pushed too late to get any traction. However, the senator told Watchdog.org that he will prioritize a similar proposal to abolish the program in 2017.
“I am confident with a little pressure we can get rid of this worthless program,” said the senator. “This is nothing but a tax predicated on a false promise.”
States moving away from mandatory vehicle inspections have witnessed fewer traffic fatalities, according to Daniel Sutter, the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics at Troy University. Highway related deaths decreased from more than 50,000 to below 35,000 since the 1970s, he said.
Oklahoma decided to end its vehicle inspection program after a study showed no evidence that it reduced car accidents or injuries; saving the state $12 million per year. Washington D.C. acted similarly, ending the program in 2009 after officials found no evidence of efficacy.
Mississippi too “abandoned its questionable program when the state DPS admitted it was losing money on it and inspection station operators said their take on the fee wasn’t enough to make a thorough inspection worthwhile.”
New Jersey did the same.
Traffic fatalities fall in states without vehicle inspections
North Carolina, however, behaved differently. The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee recommended tossing the state vehicle inspection program in 2008 after revealing it cost vehicle owners $141 million and the state $40.8 million per year and provided no benefit.
The Program Evaluation Division report “found no evidence exists showing the safety inspection program is effective, it is not possible to determine how much vehicle emissions inspections contribute to the improvement of overall air quality, and program oversight by DMV is inadequate.”
Still, the Legislature decided to keep the program going; however, an exemption was made in 2015 for owners of vehicles in the three most recent model years with less than 70,000 miles on them.
Huffines says he knows he has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to get the bill passed. “The state makes a lot of money on it, so there’s a disincentive to get rid of it,” he said.