The Pennslyvania DOT, in the name of safety, requires vehicle owners to have their cars inspected periodically to prevent serious mechanical failures. The failure of a ball joint (where the wheel attaches to the axle) or the brake system ends lives—so the safety inspection is a good idea.
However, the DOT's efforts may be pointed in the wrong direction.
In a recent study, an analysis of fatalities caused in Jersey and Washington, D.C.—two states that ended mandatory inspections—and neighboring states found that the termination of inspections didn't significantly increase traffic fatalities per capita.
The Southern Economic Journal came to similar conclusions, writing that there wasn't any evidence that inspections significantly reduce injury rates. Still, states continue to make inspections mandatory—and for good reason.
Counterpoint: Most People Don't Know Their Cars
Without mandatory inspections, the problem remains: most people simply don't know how to handle their cars. Jason Torichinsky, a car enthusiast and writer for Jalopnik.com, recalls with terror all the times that his friends mentioned a "sponginess" in the brakes or a "wobble" in the steering.
To the uninitiated, both of these symptoms seem harmless. To casual car repair hobbyists, they could be devastating safety problems, resulting in total loss of control at high speeds. Without an informed mechanic providing an inspection, drivers could put themselves and others at risk.
Mr. Torichinsky recognizes, however, that inspections are costly and sometimes ineffective. The fact is that complex inspections force people of little means to repair problems that aren't safety-related. His solution is to keep inspections simple.
He suggests limiting inspections to the following "silent killers":
- Ball joints
- Rod ends
- Brake lines
The Point of View in the Middle
Mr. Torichinsky makes a valuable point: inspections should be simple to cut costs while maximizing safety. At the same time, we believe that the state should turn its eye toward other causes of car accidents besides vehicle failure—namely, driver training and ensuring safe habits are encouraged in young drivers before they become set in their ways.
After all, the vast majority of accidents are due to driver error, not vehicle error.