- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

RICHMOND — If you own a car and live in Virginia, you go through the ritual every year: Drive to an auto-service center, have the vehicle inspected for safety problems, and hopefully drive away with a fresh inspection sticker plastered onto the windshield.

If legislation proposed by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter passes, motorists will have the option of getting the inspection once every other year and will no longer have to display a sticker on the windshield.

Mr. Lingamfelter’s bill would link the inspection to the vehicle-registration process. At tag-renewal time, the car owner would provide the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with a certificate proving that the vehicle had been inspected and deemed road-ready within the previous 60 days.

The DMV-issued registration stickers affixed to the front and rear license plates would supplant the windshield sticker as proof that the car had passed inspection. The process would be similar to one used for emissions inspections in Northern Virginia, Mr. Lingamfelter said.

Mr. Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, said the bill is an attempt to “make this government more efficient and consumer-friendly.”

The bill does not specifically address how often inspections should be conducted. However, car owners have the option of renewing their tags annually or biannually, so the practical effect of the legislation is to allow for every-other-year inspections.

Mr. Lingamfelter said his bill would encourage more car owners to opt for the two-year registration to avoid the hassle of getting the inspection every year. He said biannual inspections are adequate.

“The truth of the matter is, people are driving newer cars, and there is more knowledge and understanding about good maintenance,” Mr. Lingamfelter said.

Capt. Dennis Robertson, commander of the Virginia State Police Safety Division, said relaxing the inspection requirement is not a good idea, especially at a time when people are putting more miles — and wear and tear — on their vehicles.

“An awful lot can happen to a car in 24 months,” Capt. Robertson said. “You could conceivably have cars out there going 80,000 miles without an inspection.”

The safety argument has resonated with legislators in the past. Last year, the General Assembly killed a bill to exempt from the inspection requirement vehicles no more than five years old.

Virginia is one of 19 states that require regular safety inspections. The U.S. General Accounting Office reported last year that those states have one-sixth fewer crashes per capita than states without inspections.

About 4,200 garages and service stations are licensed to conduct inspections in Virginia. In 2002, they repaired safety problems on at least 12 percent of the 6.5 million vehicles they inspected and put rejection stickers on an additional 2 percent, Capt. Robertson said.

An inspection costs $15, a money-losing proposition for stations if not for the repair work they get by discovering safety violations.

The repair revenue is important for many stations.

“If we weren’t an inspection station, we’d probably be dead in the water,” said Dan Taylor, manager of Arch Village Exxon in suburban Richmond.

He estimated that his shop repairs about two-thirds of the cars that are brought in for inspection — evidence, he said, that annual inspections are necessary.

“Two years is going too far. A lot of people would be running up and down the road with damaged equipment,” Mr. Taylor said.

Bruce Keeney, lobbyist for the state’s auto-repair shops and gas stations, said inspection stations must buy the necessary equipment and have a licensed inspector available at least five days a week.

Reducing the number of inspections might make many station owners conclude that it’s not worth the trouble.

“They might say they can just do oil changes and make more money,” he said.

Mr. Lingamfelter said that by encouraging more two-year registrations, his bill would reduce the DMV’s workload.

However, he acknowledged that some technology issues would have to be resolved. For example, changes would have to be made to accommodate Virginians who renew their tags online.

Capt. Robertson said technology upgrades could cost $8 million to $10 million.

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