According to the Maine Sunday Telegram report of last week (“As other states modernize, Maine car safety inspection lags behind,” Dec. 25), Maine lags the region in not digitizing its motor vehicle inspection system.

Andy Libby rotates tires on a car at Kimball’s Garage in South Portland, one of more than 2,600 shops in Maine that are mailed inspection stickers by the state. Maine is one of just 15 states that require annual vehicle inspections.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In reality, the only modernization Maine’s program needs is wholesale elimination.

Maine is among a minority of states that have these programs on the books. Thirty-five states do not require annual vehicle inspections. Fifteen do. Maine is among the latter group. Why?

If the presence of an inspection program truly saved lives and reduced motor vehicle accidents, every last state would have one. But they don’t. Why? Because the evidence is clear that these programs do not save lives or reduce accidents. The proof is in the vehicle crash data.

Numerous studies have shown there is no difference in the number of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities caused by defective vehicles in states that do and don’t require inspections. Nor do the states that repeal these inspection programs see spikes in accidents and deaths after they’re eliminated. That’s because accidents are more often caused by excessive speed, distracted driving or drug and alcohol use.

Over the last few decades, states have been repealing these programs, not implementing them. That’s because they do not serve their intended purpose, making them difficult to justify to the public. They’re an annual burden, particularly for low-income Mainers, that only serve to give people the feeling or appearance of safety. The data show they don’t make roads any safer.


Consumers also (sometimes rightly) don’t trust mechanics. A 2016 AAA survey showed that two-in-three Americans did not trust repair shops, citing excessive charges and unnecessary service recommendations as top reasons for low confidence. Unfortunately, these sentiments hold up. In a 1980 American Enterprise Institute study, researchers in Pennsylvania intentionally created 13 defects in a new car before it was inspected. Among the garages visited, the detection rate of real defects varied from 25% to 54%. While mechanics on average found only five of 13 defects, they also “found” an average of two non-existent ones.

Mainers know the system is imperfect and subject to human error and the wrong incentives. Perhaps that explains why the Maine State Police want it digitized, to stop us from “sticker shopping.” We’ve all done it. But that phenomenon shows why inspections are superfluous, not why they should be digitized.

As noted in the Dec. 25 article, the Legislature in 2021 formed a group to study whether Maine needed to keep vehicle inspections. The article states that the study group’s “findings were clear: Maine still needs safety inspections.” But the so-called “study group” was composed entirely of individuals whose employment in some way hinged on the existence of the program: the people who inspect the vehicles (mechanics) and those who enforce the regulations (the state police).

Why not an impartial party at the table? Should we next convene a council of bakers to decide if the state should ban the sale of doughnuts to combat obesity? How about a team of cobblers to determine the necessity of shoestring regulations to prevent tripping accidents? Let’s ask the mob their thoughts on Prohibition while we’re at it.

What conclusions do you think these groups would reach about the rules governing their professions? Would they support and oppose rules that benefited them or the public at large? This is regulatory capture in a nutshell.

Proponents of inspections have only anecdotes to offer to support their existence. Each time a lawmaker sponsors a bill to repeal the program, the inspection stations and state police turn out in their droves to defend it. Good luck finding a financially disinterested party who supports inspections in legislative testimony.

The shops say that we should “see the stuff that comes through their doors.” They claim we need inspections because of the amount of salt and chemicals used to treat our roads each winter. Yet of the 12 states that receive average annual snowfall in excess of 40 inches, only five require annual inspections. How can all the other states get by without it, but Maine can’t?

As for the state police, Maine law allows them to pull over a vehicle if they think it’s unsafe for the roads, and this rule need not be tied to an inspection program.

There is no need for inspections in Maine. It’s wildly unpopular and disproportionately harms the poor. And while any reform is welcome – less frequent inspections or removing the requirement for new vehicles – the Legislature would do us all a great favor by eliminating it altogether this session.

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