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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Highway Patrol wants to remind the public that while safety inspections are no longer required in Utah, drivers are still required to have a safe vehicle.
Although the new law stopped requiring safety inspections only since the first of the year, troopers have already seen a spike in the number of vehicles on the road that a year ago would not have passed the state's safety inspection standards, said UHP Lt. Todd Royce.
Most of those drivers, he said, have told troopers that they wrongly believed because their vehicle no longer had to pass a safety inspection, anything goes on the road.
"We’re hearing everything. We’re having people go out and put extra dark tint on their window because they’re thinking that doesn’t apply anymore. We’re having people driving around with cracked windshields that are saying, ‘Oh, that doesn’t apply anymore.’ People that fail to put mud flaps on their car that say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t apply anymore.’ I mean, we’re getting the gamut of everything,” Royce said.
UHP Lt. Greg Willmore, head of department's safety inspection section, said troopers are already finding a mix of drivers who are purposely altering their vehicles — such as putting an illegal lift on their truck or an illegal dark tint on their windows — and drivers who are just "letting their cars go."
"You don’t have to have a safety inspection, for the most part. But the vehicle still has to meet the safety inspection standards of the laws and rules that are still in effect,” he said.
The Utah Legislature voted last year to end mandatory safety inspections. The new law went into effect Jan. 1. Supporters of the bill argued that only 16 other states require safety inspections, and none of those states that have eliminated the requirement have seen an increase in accidents due to unsafe vehicles.
Opponents argued safety inspections help keep unsafe vehicles off of the road. Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who is also a Utah Highway Patrol trooper, was among lawmakers who spoke out against the bill. Perry said he has seen multiple examples of how safety inspections save lives.
The Unified Police Department is currently investigating whether an unsafe vehicle was partially to blame for a fatal auto-pedestrian accident in January.
On Jan. 8, about 10 p.m., a 15-year-old boy with only a learner's permit hit and killed Jordan Heugly, 23, of Sandy, on a dark section of road at 300 East and 8000 South as Heugly was crossing the road to go to work.
According to a newly released search warrant, the teen driver told police he was driving his girlfriend home and didn't see Heugly until it was too late, claiming he "couldn't see anyone because of the fog," according to court documents.
Winter driving tips
The boy also claimed that the car's speedometer and instrument cluster did not work, according to a search warrant. Police later independently confirmed the speedometer of the 2005 Ford Mustang he was driving did not work. Furthermore, the boy said he was unable to brake after the crash.
After the air bags went off, "he said he couldn't (brake) because the car turned off. He said that the vehicle was in neutral and just keep going," the warrant states.
Investigators obtained the search warrant in order to check the Mustang for any faulty equipment.
"The vehicle's condition may have contributed to the accident as being in an unsafe condition. (The boy) did not know the speed he was traveling because the speedometer wasn't working in the vehicle. That is a major issue and needs to be addressed with further inspection of the vehicle," the officer wrote in the warrant.
Whether the condition of the car directly contributed to the fatal crash had not been determined as of Friday. Likewise, it was unknown if the change in the safety inspection law would have had any impact. The boy told detectives the speedometer had not worked for as long as the family had owned the vehicle, which was about five years, the warrant states.
Willmore said it's vehicles that drivers know aren't working properly, as well as those that driver's aren't even aware need fixing, that the UHP wants to keep off the road.
"A lot of times people don’t realize their tires are bald until they run off the road in a snowstorm,” he said.
For some drivers, safety inspections provided them with information that their vehicles needed repairs in areas that weren't visibly obvious, such as a bald tires or burned out headlights, Willmore said.
A person who is caught driving with an unsafe car can still be required to bring their car up to code and pass a safety inspection, Royce said.