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Published on March 2, 2009

Keep nation's highways safe



AKRON (March 2, 2009) — It's easy to dismiss vehicle safety programs as ineffective and expensive, which seems to be why more than half of the states in the union don't have them.

Yes, this is another government program and a somewhat costly one. But that's missing the point. Because vehicle safety inspections are the only way to ensure cars and light trucks are maintained to a minimum standard, they should be mandatory in all 50 states.

Without periodic inspections and enforcement, some vehicles become like moving demolition derby cars—burned out or broken lamps, bald tires, seatbelts that don't work and brakes that need repaired. We've all seen them. These rolling junk heaps are a menace not only to their passengers but to anyone or anything around them.

And lest anyone think that people will maintain their vehicles on their own, consider the opinion of AC Guarino, a service center owner and president of the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina. “Without inspections, maybe 10 to 20 percent of drivers will do the responsible thing and take care of their cars,” he said. “The other 80 percent are just going to drive them.”

Today only 18 states and the District of Columbia require some form of periodic vehicle safety inspections, down from a high of 31 states that at one time had them. The number began to decline after Congress in 1976 dropped its requirement that states mandate safety inspection programs as a condition to receiving federal highway funds.

Vehicle inspection programs do bring in extra revenue to tire dealers and other independent repair shops, and these businesses will lose out if more of them are abandoned. But that's not the primary reason to have them.

They are first and foremost a way of ensuring safer vehicles on the nation's highways. This is even more of a factor today. With many car and light truck owners hard hit by the recession, it's likely more will postpone or simply abandon repairs and maintenance because of the high cost.

More than it can chew?

Sometimes adverse situations can force two somewhat strange bedfellows to actually work together toward a common goal.

Such is likely the case with Continental A.G. and its family-run suitor/partner Schaeffler Group, which swallowed Conti last year in a bid to grow larger and help consolidate its hold on the vehicle electronics segment. Initially, when the deed was done both firms agreed to work together toward a joint operating strategy. That's not only good PR but sound business practice.

But now perhaps Schaeffler is realizing that digesting the Conti conglomerate—which includes its global tire operation and automotive division—won't be as easy, especially in light of Continental's loss of $1.6 billion in fiscal 2008 and both firms' debt loads.

“We don't want to be part of the problem, but rather the solution,” Conti CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann said, not wanting to throw fuel on recent heated debates about the efficacy of Schaeffler's takeover.

Indeed, that means working together in areas such as the joint purchase of material and finding the best sources for that material and components.

More than ever, these tough economic times demand that teamwork. The alternative: Both companies could falter.


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