A fine piece of reporting by the News & Observer results in this piece exposing the inconsistency and corruption in North Carolina’s state vehicle inspection program. The inspection program is supposed to establish a uniform checklist of safety measures active vehicles are to live up to. But in reality, the system falls well short of that goal.
…an investigation by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer found pass-fail rates can vary dramatically from one garage to another. And inspection stations differ even more sharply in how often they find and fix safety flaws – if they report them at all – so cars can legitimately pass inspection.
The uneven numbers reflect concerns about cheating and uncertainty about whether motorists who fork over the fees get what they pay for.
North Carolina is one of only 17 states that forces drivers to spend money to have their vehicles inspected. Moreover, the state’s Program Evaluation Division issued a 2008 report finding that the inspection program was essentially a waste of citizens’ time and money.
In 2008, the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division found no evidence that safety inspections were effective or necessary. The report said inspectors performed inconsistent work with inadequate oversight from DMV. It recommended eliminating safety inspections or exempting newer cars, which rarely fail.
John Turcotte, director of the Program Evaluation Division, and other critics point to the $106 million motorists spend annually on safety fees. Of those fees, private garages and dealerships keep $99 million for their work.
“When the government puts a burden on the public and makes them pay for it, there ought to be evidence it is effective,” said Turcotte, who believes the findings of his agency’s report hold true today.
So why does the state insist on continuing this program, even in light of its own evaluation declaring it to be neither effective or necessary?
This year 14 senators co-sponsored a similar proposal (to end the inspection program) that met the same fate. It was buried with the help of Sen. Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican who is the Senate majority leader.
Brown owns three car dealerships that have collected $177,000 in safety inspection fees since 2008. In 2010 he received about $50,000 in campaign contributions from the auto industry.
“Most people realize safety inspections are important,” Brown said.
Members of the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina and other trade associations launched a lobbying campaign aimed at lawmakers. Groups such as the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Automotive Service Association and Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association wrote letters against the proposal.
“They were telling them it was a safety issue, but the other issue was that it was going to destroy their business,” said Bob Pulverenti, executive director of the garage owners group. “It could have been devastating to the industry.”
Yet another case of big government propping up a favored group of businesses. The comments of Pulverenti are especially relealing. If your business is reliant upon government laws forcing people to purchase a service, your business should go away. Those resources should instead be freed up to satisfy consumer needs that they voluntarily pay for.
UPDATE: In a phone conversation with Sen. Brown, he shared a little more perspective about his experience with the auto inspections via his car dealerships. He noted that about 80 to 90 percent of the inspections performed at his dealerships are done on his own cars that his dearlership acquires for resale. On these inspections, he actually loses money because the $12.75 of the fee his dealerships keep is less than the labor costs to perform the inspections. Sen. Brown disputed the innuendo contained in the news article that his stance on the state inspection was motivated by his personal financial gain -as he loses money on the process. And the news article didn’t specify whom within the “auto industry” made up the campaign contributions (it may include dealers, manufacturers, service assocation – each which may have a different opinion of the inspection program). Brown suggested that most in the auto dealership industry would actually favor repealing the inspections. Brown made clear in no uncertain terms that his concern for keeping the state auto inspection is an issue of public safety – and that he made this case to the newspaper writers, but they left that part out. Nobody is more skeptical than I of the motivations of politicians, but in this case it seems the Observer writers were a bit loose with their not-so-subtle accusation that Sen. Brown is motivated by personal gain in his support of the state auto inspection program.