Published on December 19, 2013

NHTSA, trade groups spar over vehicle inspections

Miles Moore, Senior Washington reporter

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is sticking with its practice of recommending states offer “periodic” motor vehicle safety inspections, thereby rejecting suggestions by a raft of industry groups pleading for annual inspections.

Among the groups championing annual inspections are the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and Advocates for Vehicle & Highway Safety (AVHS).

The agency published its stance in the Nov. 29 Federal Register along with proposed amendments to several other highway safety program guidelines,

All of the organizations submitting comments wanted stronger language regarding inspections.

According to NHTSA, all of them “believe (safety inspections) should be performed annually and disagree with NHTSA’s recommendation for periodic inspections.

“They expressed concern that the revised language could impact the effectiveness of the guideline if states moved from a required annual inspection to longer intervals between inspections,” the agency said.

However, NHTSA disagreed, saying the decision of times between inspections should be left up to the states.

“Nothing in the revised guideline would prevent a state from maintaining an annual inspection process,” the agency said.

“NHTSA believes the research on the general effectiveness of (safety inspections) is inconclusive, and does not warrant a more prescriptive approach.”

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NHTSA's recommended Highway Safety Program Guideline No. 1

Periodic Motor Vehicle Inspection

Each State should have a program for periodic inspection of all registered vehicles to reduce the number of vehicles with existing or potential conditions that may contribute to crashes or increase the severity of crashes that do occur, and should require the owner to correct such conditions.

I. An inspection program would provide, at a minimum, that:

   A. Every vehicle registered in the State is inspected at the time of initial registration and on a periodic basis thereafter as determined by the State based on evidence of the effectiveness of inspection programs.

   B. The inspection is performed by competent personnel specifically trained to perform their duties and certified by the State.

   C. The inspection covers systems, subsystems, and components havingsubstantial relation to safe vehicle performance.

   D. Each inspection station maintains records in a form specified by the State, which includes at least the following information:

  • Class of vehicle.
  • Date of inspection.
  • Make of vehicle.
  • Model year.
  • Vehicle identification number.
  • Defects by category.
  • Identification of inspector.
  • Mileage or odometer reading.

   E. The State publishes summaries of records of all inspection stations at least annually, including tabulations by make and model of vehicle.

II. The program should be periodically evaluated by the State and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should be provided with an evaluation summary.

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 Whereas advocates of annual safety inspections cite results of studies performed in Pennsylvania and Missouri, a similar study performed in Norway showed no safety benefits from requiring annual inspections, NHTSA said.

In their combined comments from July 20, 2012, the RMA and TIA cited the Pennsylvania and Missouri studies, and also noted that only 19 states have any safety inspection requirements at all.

“Tires are the only part of a vehicle to touch the road,” the associations said. “Tires that are underinflated, overloaded, worn or damaged are at risk of failure that can lead to a crash.

“While an annual vehicle inspection that includes tires will not completely reverse such widespread neglect of tire maintenance, it can both reduce the incidents of tire failure and help educate more motorists about the importance of tire care,” they said.

The RMA and TIA suggested NHTSA explore the idea of incentive grants to persuade states to establish safety inspections, as well as withholding federal highway funds from states that don’t have inspection programs.

However, NHTSA rejected this suggestion. The new requirements for tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) — part of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 138 and 139 — coupled with existing criteria for inspections, makes further action unnecessary, it said.

The effects of these rules are expected to continue to increase with time as market penetration increases, the agency said, as well as “reduce any potential benefit of a PMVI assessment of tires.”

Moreover, NHTSA “recommends that vehicle owners should inspect their tires on a monthly basis for wear and tear as well as underinflation, rather than rely on a PMVI check-up once every year or two.”

In its July 20, 2012, comments, the AAIA noted the Pennsylvania study’s assertion that safety inspection rules in that state prevent 115 to 169 fatal crashes every year.

“Without the recommendation that inspection procedures equal or exceed criteria issued or endorsed by NHTSA, and by changing the frequency recommendation for inspections from annually to periodic, the guideline loses some of its possible impact,” the association said.

The agency also pointed out that there can be different schedules for different types of vehicles. While passenger vehicles may not be required to have annual inspections, states may require other vehicles, such as large trucks, buses or other commercial vehicles, to have one.

At the same time, advocacy groups AEPI, Motor & Equipment Manufacturing Association (MEMA) and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) expressed concern with a best practices model for implementing PMVI programs, NHTSA said. In response, the agency said it is in the process of updating rule 49 CFR 570, which incorporates these practices.

Other guidelines NHTSA updated in its Nov. 29 notice included those for motor vehicle registration and crash investigations. A new guideline — older driver safety — was added.

All of the new guidelines became effective on the date of publication in the Federal Register.     

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