There are a lot of reasons that Mainers dislike having to pay for a vehicle safety inspection every year.

The state sticker may cost only $12.50, but the private mechanics who inspect the car or truck have a strong motivation to find something that needs fixing in order to justify their time. And the regulations are complicated enough that mechanics can usually find something, if they are so inclined.

That’s why this year, as in the past, there are a number of bills before the Legislature that would change Maine’s vehicle inspection law, including L.D. 712, sponsored by Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden, which would eliminate the need for inspection for all vehicles until they are 20 years old.

These bills have never gone anywhere in the past, because there is one argument that trumps all the others: Safety.

When the Legislature considers these bills, as the Transportation Committee will do Tuesday, the lawmakers will weigh the cost and inconvenience of requiring a sticker for every vehicle every year against assertions from mechanics, insurance companies and some in law enforcement who say that these inspections save lives.

But do they? The evidence is hard to find.

For one thing, most states don’t even bother. Maine is one of 15 states that require annual inspections; a few others require them every other year. The rest of the states have no safety inspections.

If you are looking for a correlation between states that require inspections and safer roads, you won’t find it. Some of the safest states have no test required, and some of the most dangerous one do require them. Winter weather is a common cause of vehicle crashes, and it might make sense that a state like Maine would have high standards for vehicles that are operated in dangerous conditions. Our neighbors in northern New England, New Hampshire and Vermont, require annual inspections, but other cold-weather states like Michigan and Minnesota don’t have any.

Mechanical failures, like the ones Maine’s inspection programs are supposed to prevent, are the immediate cause of only 2 percent of the country’s vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But factors related to drivers, such as distraction, speeding, alcohol, drugs and falling asleep at the wheel are the immediate cause of a crash 94 percent of the time. Instead of inspecting vehicles, maybe we should be inspecting drivers.

Legislators are right to be careful about changing the rules about anything as dangerous as driving, which kills more than 150 people in Maine every year.

But proponents of the current vehicle inspection law ought to be able to produce more than anecdotes to prove that this policy is making a difference.


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