by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
That North Carolina’s system of automobile inspections persists is, as I wrote in my 2013 report on Carolina Cronyism, "a triumph of cronyism." North Carolina is one of only 17 states that require safety inspections of automobiles, though there have been frequent legislative efforts to end them (my report discusses them, going back to 1999).
Efforts to end them have collapsed after intense lobbying, copious campaign donations, and service-station poor-mouthing (they would be shut down and jobs lost, you see, if it weren’t for all the business from car owners forced by the State of North Carolina to darken their doors — if those justifications sound remarkably similar to those used by the extensive renewable energy lobby, it’s because they are).
Some headway was made in 2012 when lawmakers passed a law exempting new cars three model years and younger from vehicle emissions inspections. That law came about after efforts by then-Gov. Bev Perdue to review the inspection system, which came about after an investigation of the system by the Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer.
Here is what the Charlotte Observer had to say about the results of its study:
In fact, the N.C. system is so mired in corruption — bribery, cheating, falsifying documents — that the auto inspection process has become a sham. It is providing a false sense of safety to the millions of North Carolinians who drive. These disturbing findings should prod state policymakers to give the auto inspection system an overhaul immediately.
Officials don’t have to look far for recommendations. In 2008, the N.C. legislature’s watchdog agency — the N.C. Program Evaluation Division — examined the program and found that inspectors performed inconsistent work with inadequate state enforcement. The watchdog agency recommended eliminating safety inspections or exempting newer cars from safety and emissions tests because they rarely fail….
Right now, the N.C. program is a waste of time and money. Motorists spend $106 million a year on inspection fees. The private garages that perform the auto inspections rake in about $99 million. The investigation by the Observer and the N&O showed rampant fraud by workers at several of those garages — some gouging customers with unnecessary services and others taking bribes to falsify results to pass vehicles that actually fail. And the state provides insufficient oversight to prevent or curtail such practices. Even when cheaters get caught, a long appeals process guarantees they can stay in business and continue to cheat for years.
On top of this system the state has added vehicle emissions inspections for 48 counties. This system is, of course, no improvement on the wastefulness and cronyism of the one it’s piggybacking on.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources was recently tasked by the General Assembly to "examine whether all of the counties covered under the emissions testing and maintenance program pursuant to G.S. 143-215.107A are needed to meet and maintain the current and proposed federal ozone standards in North Carolina." On March 30, 2015, DENR submitted the results of that study (pdf) to the Environmental Review Commission.
Based on its findings, DENR recommended eliminating the vehicle emissions inspections in 27 to 31 counties (depending upon the ozone standard to be adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
Furthermore, DENR recommended those emissions inspections be ended by the end of this calendar year, on January 1, 2016.
A bill before the General Assembly, House Bill 169, would appear to take DENR’s recommendation by having vehicle emissions inspections eliminated in 29 counties. The problem is, should the bill pass in its current form, it becomes effective on January 1, 2020.
Why the four-year delay? The DENR report makes it clear those inspections are unnecessary now. That means they are costly and unnecessary intrusions on thousands of drivers across the state.
All the delay would do, based on the state’s sordid history of trying to end its "sham" automobile inspection system "mired in corruption," is allow future sessions of the General Assembly to add back in select counties or eventually eliminate the future elimination.
It’s easier to undo an act that has years yet to go till it takes effect (cronyism by passive aggression) than it is to make the more blatant act of cronyism of requiring it again once it has been ended.
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