Vehicle safety inspections are more than just a chore — they're a tax

Photo by Ryan McCrimmon

Do you remember the last time you had to get your vehicle's safety inspection? There was, of course, the drive to and from the inspection station, the wait to get your car inspected and — capping it off — the unavoidable fees. It’s a chore that no one relishes, and it's one that no Texan should be forced to endure every year.

The time and money Texans expend on state-mandated inspection of passenger vehicles would be justifiable if they meant safer roads for us and our families. Unfortunately, they do not.

This might be why the federal government, which isn't known for practicing legislative restraint, repealed the mandate of passenger safety inspections in 1976, making this a rare example of Texas' government going beyond the federal government in its imposition on individual liberties. Thirty-four states — including populous states such as Florida and California — have seen the data and repealed their mandate. They recognized that mandated inspections on passenger cars and trucks contribute nothing to safer roads.

One such example is Nebraska, which repealed its passenger safety inspection mandate in conjunction with a study of the impact it had on defect-related crashes before and after the repeal. To the surprise of many, the number of defect-related crashes actually fell by nearly 16 percent in the absence of an inspection mandate.

It's not just case studies. Many governments, universities and economists have studied the effectiveness of the mandated motor vehicle safety inspection in terms of its economic and societal benefits, and they agree there is no positive link between these inspections and roadway safety.

So let's call these inspections what they really are: a tax on Texans’ time and money.

This tax costs Texans an annual $267 million in fees alone. What's arguably worse is the tax on our time — the program forces more than 50,000 trips to the inspection station every single day, resulting in more than 9 million wasted hours every year. That adds up to $203 million in lost wages, based on average salary data. After you count the costs of gas, lost wages, and the inspection fees, the program costs the average household at least $40 a year.

This type of flat cost disproportionately affects lower-income Texans, and while most begrudge the annual trip to the station, these individuals are truly harmed by this unnecessary and counterproductive mandate.

Even after the facts have been presented, Texans can expect one group to fight for this needless state mandate: inspection stations that profit from a state-required stream of customers. This brand of self-serving crony capitalism has no place in Texas, where our fiscal success is steeped in conservative ideals. Free markets work. Just because the state repeals the mandated inspection tax doesn’t mean that inspections will end. If anything, it will make them more effective by allowing the consumers' demands to determine the value of a safety inspection and by dispelling the notion that the state can promise personal safety in a 15-minute evaluation of a car's annual roadworthiness.

To be clear, we're only addressing passenger vehicle safety inspections, and the truth is, these types of inspections are not even stations' primary source of state-required revenue. Stations will retain their mandated commercial safety and emissions inspections customers because — unlike passenger vehicle inspections — both are federally required.

In classic big-government fashion, the passenger vehicle safety inspection is predicated on a false promise. For our state to continue to be a beacon of freedom, it would do us good to remember that the enemy of liberty does not always reside in Washington, D.C. Sometimes it's closer to home, in Austin.

It's no longer a question of if the Mandatory Passenger Vehicle Safety Inspection Tax should be repealed but when it should be repealed. Frankly, tomorrow wouldn't be soon enough. 

Don Huffines

Former state senator