AUGUSTA — Maine’s motor vehicle safety inspection program came under legislative scrutiny Tuesday at a hearing on several bills, with a Republican lawmaker saying the program should be eliminated for most vehicles because there is little evidence that it improves public safety.

But the state official who heads the program disagreed, pointing to data showing that 3 percent of accidents reported in Maine annually involve vehicles that had some kind of defective equipment.

“If the proponents of these bills could hear the stories and see the faces of the lives that are affected by those involved in defect-related crashes we would not be here today and we could do anything in our power to save one life,” Maine State Police Lt. Bruce Scott said.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee was presented with five bills on the inspection program, including measures that would narrow, relax or eliminate the requirement for most non-commercial vehicles. Proposals to kill or scale back the program have been introduced in a number of legislative sessions over the past 15 years, but all have been rejected.

State Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, who sponsored several of the bills, said only 16 states require either annual or biennial vehicle inspections. Connecticut is the only New England state that doesn’t require inspections.

“I do believe the issue is far more based on individual responsibility,” Cebra said, suggesting that any repeal of the inspection requirement should be phased in to allow motorists to gradually accept that responsibility. Cebra agreed to allow the committee to kill four of the bills and concentrate on a single proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Miramant, D-Knox, which would eliminate inspections except for commercial vehicles, trailers, fire trucks and certain other vehicles.

Cebra, who has repeatedly sponsored bills to reform or eliminate the sticker requirement, said there is no evidence showing that inspections significantly reduce highway crashes or save lives in large numbers.

But Scott, the state police lieutenant, said inspections regularly detect dangerous and sometimes imminent defects. He said the proposed bill would eliminate inspections for 1.2 million of the 1.3 million vehicles that are currently inspected for safety flaws. Commercial vehicles, school buses and fire trucks would still require annual inspections under the measure.

Scott said that Maine has about 35,000 motor vehicle accidents a year that involve injury or deaths and that about 3 percent of those, or about 1,050 accidents, involve a vehicle with a defect that was a contributing factor.

He also said Maine could lose millions of dollars in federal funding if it ended the emissions testing program required for vehicles in Cumberland County. That program makes the state eligible for federal funds for improving air quality. Scott said the state also would lose about $3.5 million in revenues from its share of the inspection fee.

It was not clear if removing the inspection program would have any impact on auto insurance rates in Maine. But in written testimony to the committee, Miramant pointed out, “It turns out that of the 10 states with the cheapest auto insurance rates, eight of those states have no inspection programs.”

In recent years, law enforcement officers in Maine also have stepped up their efforts to stop counterfeit sticker operations , adding new security measures to the officially issued sticker so police can better detect fakes.

Most motorists pay $12.50 (or $18.50 in Cumberland County) for an annual once-over that can flag broken taillights, bald tires, missing mufflers and other safety issues. The fee is the lowest in New England for inspections, according to Dustin Mellor, an Augusta-based district manager for VIP Tires and Service.

Mellor said Maine’s roads, especially winter conditions and road salt, take a toll on vehicles, “even the toughest trucks.” He said other states charge as much as $20 and $30 for inspections. Those who back the program also argue the checks are necessary because many Mainers drive older vehicles.

The average passenger car with an active registration is 9.3 years old and the average number of miles per car is 100,131, according to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the weeks ahead before the measure heads to the full Legislature for consideration.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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