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Tuesday, 07 June 2011 15:45

Advocates Worry About Axed Safety Inspections in New Jersey

Since New Jesery did away with mandatory vehicle safety inspections required to get a valid registration sticker, inspection and fixing of certain items that would have been required for the eliminated safety portion of the motor vehicle evaluation process seem to have slipped from the consciousness of the driving public.

At least that’s what their mechanics are saying after the mechanical, or safety inspection portion, of the process was eliminated in August of 2010. State officials said they’ve seen fewer vehicles come to state inspection stations for emissions testing, which was partly attributed to new regulations exempting new cars from being inspected for five years.

A survey of members of the the New Jersey Gas-Convenience Store Retailers Association said that the number of customers having inspections performed has declined by “significant numbers” and that drivers were putting off the types of mechanical repairs previously needed to pass the state’s safety inspection, when items are brought to their attention.

“Our members are finding two things: A lot of vehicles aren’t getting inspected period, and some drivers are under the impression they don’t need the emissions inspection,” Sal Risalvato, executive director of the association, told the Asbury Park Press. “When we (mechanics) find things and bring it to their attention, they’re choosing not to do certain things, like replace a cracked windshield, or they put it off.”

Bad tires and faulty brakes are the biggest safety concerns and could lead to an accident, Risalvato said.

The mechanical or “safety” part of the bi-annual inspection process was eliminated on Aug. 1, 2010, by the state Motor Vehicle Commission as a cost-cutting measure. Officials justified the change because only 6 percent of vehicles inspected fail and running the program cost $12 million.

Drivers will receive fliers in their vehicles’ registration renewal forms to remind them they still have to present their vehicle for an emissions test either at a state inspection station or a certified private garage, Michael Horan, state Motor Vehicle Services spokesman said. “There still is a mandated emissions test every two years, that inspection still exists,” he said to the Asbury Park Press. “We will have an insert in the registration renewal to remind them to check if they’re due.”

New vehicles are the only exception to that rule, being given a five-year inspection sticker, he said. Owners of new cars that had four-year stickers before the law was changed have received one-year extension stickers in the mail, Horan said.

Officials plan to look at inspection data after the one-year anniversary of the change in August “to see where we stand,” Horan said. But Risalvato said he doesn’t believe there will be enough data after one year to effectively judge if safety is being affected.

Since mechanical inspection was eliminated, a total of 5,248 summons were written between Aug. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, for failure to inspect or failure to make repairs and other inspection related offenses, according to the state administrative office of the courts. Union County had the most summonses, with 1,729.

While Risalvato said part of a driver’s decision to put off work is a function of the sluggish economy, safety items that would have to be addressed to get a vaid inspection sticker a year ago aren’t being done and putting other drivers at risk.

Even if an inspector sees a burned-out brake light during the course of an emissions test, it won’t cost the driver a valid sticker, but rather just a reminder to get it looked at, Horan said.

Horan reminded drivers that under the law, they are ultimately are responsible to get broken mechanical items fixed. The association also is giving fliers to customers with information about what drivers are responsible for maintaining on their vehicle under the law.

A March 2009 study done for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation concluded that states with vehicle safety inspection programs have significantly fewer fatal crashes than states without such programs.

That report also suggested focusing vehicle inspection on the mechanical systems, which if they failed, could have the the highest likelihood of contributing to a crash, such as tires, brakes, and, to some extent, exterior lights such as brake, headlights and turn signals.

Horan said New Jersey motor vehicle officials read that study, in addition to those done in other states.

“It was one of many we looked at, that was part of our argument. For every study that said yes, another study said it was inconclusive whether mechanic inspection saved lives,” Horan said to the Asbury Park Press. “We looked at (New Jersey) State Police general crash data, which said 2 percent were due to mechanical issues, the majority of accident causes were due to driver error or weather.”

Risalvato said more consideration should have been given to the Pennsylvania study because it is the newest and most comprehensive study done to date.

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