Bill may be first step to bringing back Utah vehicle safety inspections

SB93 only would require emissions techs to examine car lights and lamps.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Traffic on 400 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Utah scrapped its mandatory vehicle safety inspection program in 2017, but some in the state Legislature hope to bring at least some aspects of it back.

A move is afoot to start reinstating portions — and perhaps eventually all — of the state-required vehicle safety inspections that the Legislature dumped four years ago.

“I have had so many phone calls” asking “why did you do this? Why did you take this away?” Senate Democratic leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said in a hearing this week.

She argues that halting inspections has made roads more dangerous as people face no mandate to identify and replace bald tires, broken windshield, burned-out headlights or other problems.

“I talked to the Highway Patrol. In one year, there’s been 1,633 accidents caused by bad tires, brakes, steering, power train, wheels, windows, windshields, headlights, suspension, signal lights, tail lights, mirrors, exhaustion and wipers,” Mayne said.

Those crashes, she adds, caused nine deaths.

So, she introduced a bill, SB93, to take a small step to require technicians performing vehicle emissions tests to also check whether any car lights and lamps are not working, and simply advise drivers about their findings. Mayne said emissions testers might make some money by offering to sell replacements.

In a hearing on the bill — which advanced on a 5-1 vote — Mayne made no bones about hoping that is just a first step to bring back full-blown safety inspections, and even openly invited other senators several times to amend her bill to take it further.

Otherwise, “I think we need to maybe piecemeal them [portions of old safety inspections] back into place” over time, she said.

Some colleagues pushed back on bill’s direction and the sponsor’s ultimate goal.

“There are a lot of studies that show that the accident rates and severity were about the same between states have had safety inspections that in those that didn’t,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.

A 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress, found that “There is little recent empirical research on the relationship between vehicle safety inspection programs and whether these programs reduce crash rates. What is available has generally been unable to establish any causal relationship.”

Supporters of dumping the safety inspections in 2017 argued they amounted to an expensive feel-good program that made little real difference on the road and wasted money. However, former Rep. Lee Perry — who was a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant — argued unsuccessfully that he saw them make a real difference and worried they would increase accidents.

Harper asked Mayne point blank if her current simple light-checking bill is designed start a movement to bring back full-flown safety inspections.

“I think this is a small little step forward to save some lives,” she said, adding she recently almost rear-ended a car that had burned out brake lights and probably didn’t realize it.

Harper replied, “I see where this is going” — and voted against it.

Similarly, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he is opposed to bringing back full inspections, but didn’t mind advancing a simple light-check bill.

Still, he warned Mayne, “I am far from being a yes on the Senate floor. And if this thing spirals out of control, I will most likely oppose it. But at this point, I think it’s a fairly innocuous.”

Mayne said, “I really don’t see this spiraling out of control on the floor of the Senate. I think it’s … a conversation that needs to be explored.”

Her bill is not the only one seeking to have current emissions testing to include some more work.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, is pushing HB165 to require such testing to include ensuring that cars comply with noise suppression requirements. It was stalled in a committee hearing this week — including one failed vote on passage — but was held over for further consideration.