Editorial: Safety first 

It seems that every couple of years, well-meaning lawmakers introduce bills to curtail or eliminate Maine’s vehicle inspection laws and then a conversation about safety ensues.  

We are here again. 

A senator from Camden, David Miramant, has introduced a bill that would change Maine’s vehicle inspection law, eliminating the need for inspection of all vehicles until they are 20 years old.  

Previous efforts to repeal or change Maine’s inspection requirements have been met with resistance in the Legislature, including in 2019 when the Transportation Committee unanimously rejected a similar bill. 

According to Miramant, inspection requirements do not make Maine highways any safer and that unscrupulous mechanics often find something to repair to justify the low $12.50 fee, which doesn’t actually cover the cost of the time spent inspecting a vehicle.  

There are some data points that support Miramant’s assertions, including findings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that only 2 percent of crashes are directly related to vehicle safety 

But there are some common findings in those 2 percent. Tires, brakes and steering column issues were the primary factors in those accidents. Of that small percentage, bad tires accounted for 34 percent, faulty brakes were 22 percent and steering column issues were 3 percent. The other 40 percent vary in terms of causality and the percentages are further watered down when accounting for slick roads, glare and view obstructions as factors of crashes that also involve tire, brake or steering malfunctions.  

Anyone who lives in Maine can tell you the importance of good tires during inclement weather. The roads are not always well crowned, which leads to small surface puddles and ice spots that often result from poorly constructed roads. Tires can sometimes make all the difference between staying on and involuntarily exiting the roadway.  

The allornothing approach needs more thought, and we are convinced that a commonsense compromise can be reached. 

For instance, the idea that a vehicle would not be subject to inspection for its first 20 years sounds like a bad idea.  

Maine roadways are full of hazards, including potholes and frost heaves, which can damage even the newest of vehicles. They are also subject to heavy amounts of calcium and salt brine applications during the winter that wreak havoc on metal components and create harmful rust that eats away at important parts like gas tanks and brake lines. 

If the laws are to change, let’s look at eliminating inspection for the first five years of a vehicle’s life, or allowing those who fail inspection more time to address non-life-threatening problems so they are not put in a tough spot the day they go in for an inspection. Give folks time to get a second opinion and create a mechanism to share issues about mechanic shops that exploit their inspection privileges. 

We might also consider limiting the items required during an inspection to inspect tires, brakes and steering components.  

Let’s also work to press the Department of Transportation to remedy road conditions and provide safe travel lanes on which vehicles can operate.  

Safety should come first, but common sense should be a close second as the egislature works through this issue yet again.  

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