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SALT LAKE CITY — Since Utah stopped requiring annual vehicle safety inspections last year, crashes in which equipment was a contributing factor appear to be on the rise.
State lawmakers, however, don’t appear in the mood to restore the program, though one Democrat wants to require inspections on used car sales.
Based on its numbers to date, the Utah Highway Patrol projects 1,377 cases where equipment on the car contributed to a crash this year, an 11.4% increase. In 2018 — the first year without mandatory safety inspections — there were 1,252 such crashes, about the same as in the two previous years before the law changed.
UHP Lt. Matt Spillman shared the statistics with Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday during a discussion of the bygone program. Safety inspections statewide dropped from nearly 2.9 million in 2017 to 121,378 so far this year. The laws still requires owners to keep their cars in safe condition.
In doing away with inspections, the Legislature gave the highway patrol additional money to step up vehicle safety enforcement. Troopers have issued 530 vehicle repair orders to drivers in 2019, nearly 400 more than last year. Those orders can be issued in lieu of, or along with, a traffic ticket.
Troopers are only writing the orders for drivers who repeatedly fail to get their cars fixed or whose cars are too unsafe to be on the road, Spillman said.
“We don’t issue those randomly,” he said.
The UHP has inspected 44 cars after a wreck, finding half of them had a safety violation. But Spillman said the violations might or might not have contributed to the crash. About 36% of the violations were brakes and 16% were tires.
Troopers also did visual inspections at 50 used care dealerships and five new car dealerships, meaning they just looked at the front row of cars parked on the lots, Spillman said. Of the 714 used cars troopers eyeballed, 388 had violations, according to the UHP. Only 11 of 118 new cars appeared to have violations.
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said she doesn’t want to bring back vehicle safety inspections, but wants to make sure previously owned cars are safe on the road. Requiring inspections on used cars sales would free up troopers to focus on other issues, she said.
The committee voted to draft a bill to do that, though somewhat reluctantly.
“I guess I’m not convinced there’s really a need here,” said Rep. Kelly Miles, R-South Ogden.
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, said potential buyers already have an incentive to get a used car checked out to make sure they don’t get a clunker. He said he sees Riebe’s proposal as a step toward restoring the program.
Statue Auditor John Dougall, who as a legislator pushed to eliminate safety inspections, said in the four states with the safest roads, two had programs and two didn’t. The same was true for the four states with the most hazardous roads, he said.
“It wasn’t really translating into safety onto the road,” He said.
Utah was one of few Western states that required inspections. The number nationwide peaked at about 30 and has dropped to about 15 as states have phased out the program, Dougall said.