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Study: No Clear Influence Between State Inspection Programs and Crash Rates

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Aug. 27, 2015—The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study Wednesday on vehicle safety inspection programs.  

One of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) guidelines to help states optimize the effectiveness of highway safety programs recommends that each state have a program to periodically inspect all registered vehicles to reduce the number of unsafe vehicles on the road. GAO was asked to review these state programs and NHTSA’s assistance to states.

GAO officials from 15 state vehicle inspection programs that were interviewed said that while the programs enhance vehicle safety and help identify vehicles safety problems and result in repair of those vehicles, the benefits and costs of the programs are hard to quantify.

Pennsylvania state data showed that in 2014, over 529,000 vehicles failed inspection and then underwent repairs to pass. However, estimates gathered throughout the nation collected by the NHTSA show that vehicle component failure is a factor in only 2 to 7 percent of crashes. This small percentage, as well as other factors—such as implementation or increased enforcement of state traffic safety laws—make it difficult to determine the effect of inspection programs based on crash data. No clear influence was found by the GOA between inspection programs and crash rates related to vehicle component failure.

Many states also did not directly track the costs of operating safety inspection programs because costs may be combined with other inspection programs. State safety inspection program officials GAO interviewed primarily cited the oversight of inspection activities and paper-based data systems as challenges they have faced in operating vehicle safety inspection programs. Program officials in all 15 states said that additional information from NHTSA—for example, information related to new vehicle safety technologies—would help in operating their programs. Without information, states have implemented different inspection pass-fail criteria or chosen not to include new technologies in their inspections, potentially reducing the safety benefit of their programs.

GOA recommended that the Department of Transportation establish a communication channel with states to convey relevant information to state safety inspection officials and respond to their questions. DOT officials reviewed this report and agreed with GAO’s recommendation.

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) said it will offer its thoughts on the study’s findings in the near future.

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