Automobile inspections have been on hold in Massachusetts for more than two weeks.
The state ought to take this opportunity to look at its inspection system and turn in a different direction.
As a story Tuesday by Sun Chronicle Staff Writer David Linton explained, the vendor that runs the emissions and safety inspection system took it down March 30 in response to a malware attack. The system is expected to be back online by Saturday.
Drivers who have been unable to get their vehicles inspected will now have until the end of May to get a valid sticker, the Registry of Motor Vehicles said Tuesday.
But the inspection system is a throwback to an earlier era when cars were far less safe and had none of the technological advancements of today’s vehicles.
Requiring owners to get a sticker every year simply must become a thing of the past. The state should study the system to see if inspections can be drastically scaled back or abolished entirely because it is an unnecessary and costly burden on the driving public.
Inspections began during an era when many cars did not even have seat belts or they were not required while driving. Mechanical failures were frequent back then so an annual inspection was needed to make sure steering, braking, suspension and signaling were operative.
It was a necessary public safety measure.
Today, seat belts are just the start of a revolution in automotive safety that has taken place since the early 1990s. There are just 14 other states — including Rhode Island and New Hampshire — that still conduct periodic inspections while two others require an inspection when a vehicle is sold.
Even the most basic cars today have air bags that deploy at even a minor crash. Anti-lock braking and electronic stability control systems assist drivers in dangerous skidding situations.
Modern vehicles warn drivers when they drift from lanes and detect other cars approaching from a blind spot. Back-up cameras help drivers avoid fender benders in the parking lot.
Most importantly, cars built in the last 20 years operate longer and more efficiently than your grandfather’s vehicle.
Fifty years ago, it was considered a major accomplishment for any vehicle to reach 100,000 miles. Today, most automakers are willing to offer 100,000-mile warranties. Car and Driver magazine says the average vehicle today should last at least 200,000 miles with just routine maintenance.
There doesn’t appear to be any safety reason to retain the inspection system.
A study by the auto insurance industry found no difference in traffic fatalities or in accidents caused by mechanical failure between states that require automobile inspections and those that don’t.
The perception is that inspections are primarily a revenue generator for the state and for the repair shops that conduct them.
We hope that is not the case, but we fear lobbying by the repair industry and Beacon Hill’s desire to hang on to a revenue stream has kept this anachronism in place.
We urge Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature to form a task force to study the question to determine what is really needed to keep the roads safe. An inspection by an independent repair shop would seem to be needed whenever a vehicle is purchased. Perhaps an inspection every two or three years could be justified. Rhode Island, for example, requires cars be inspected every two years.
But making people make take time out of their busy lives every year to wait for an inspection and pay for a sticker is not only a waste of time, it’s highway robbery, and we urge the state to put an end to it.