Should Utah eliminate safety and emissions tests?


Representative John Dougall (R-Dist. 27) wants to pass a bill in the 2012 legislative session that would eliminate safety inspections entirely and loosen requirements for emissions testing. He argues that these requirements are unnecessary for many cars and do little to protect the safety of Utah drivers.

Watch this video report to hear arguments for and against Representative Dougall’s idea.


What do you think? Are safety and emissions requirements unnecessary and intrusive regulations or does the state have legitimate reasons for requiring these tests on Utah cars?

Here’s the script of the video:

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DOUGALL: “Utah is the only state in the West – there’s only about 19 states or so that have safety inspections, so most of the states do not have safety inspections. So I was asking the question: Does this really make cars safer?”

VOICE-OVER: Representative John Dougall wants to pass a bill this next legislative session that would get rid of safety inspections entirely and change the stipulations for emissions testing of passenger vehicles. Dougall relies on some convincing data to support his position.

REPRESENTATIVE DOUGALL: “Some of the raw data we have gotten so far, is for the newer cars, think of it like five years or less, they have an over 99 percent pass rate. Obviously in older cars, that’s where we have the serious emission problem, that’s where the testing should be focused, but on the newer ones, I’m looking perhaps five years and newer, or 10 years and newer, not to have to hassle with emissions testing.”

VOICE-OVER: The initial data collected by Representative Dougall seems to show that emissions tests are not actually catching many emissions problems. However, people like Jim Astle, a service manager from Young Buick GMC, who has more than 28 years’ experience servicing cars, questions the accuracy of such data.

JIM ASTLE: “If a cars rolls in here with the check engine light on and it needs an emissions test, they know that it’s not going to pass with a check engine light, so they are going to fix the check engine light first and then do an emissions test. So it wouldn’t necessarily show in their data that the car wouldn’t have passed emissions.”

VOICE-OVER: Regarding safety inspections, Representative Dougall again refers to data to support his position.

REPRESENTATIVE DOUGALL: “When you look and see the vast majority of states do not have a safety check, and Utah is the outlier in the West, and when you look at studies that are showing it doesn’t make a difference in terms of road safety. Is there anything that shows in the data that Utah cars are safer when they are on the road, and it looks like it’s an unnecessary expenditure which doesn’t make cars any safer.”

VOICE-OVER: But Astle believes dropping safety inspection requirements would have unintended consequences.

JIM ASTLE: “Some of the things that I see is our used cars. When we take in used cars, we have to make sure they pass safety and emissions before we can put them back out on the lot to sell, and oftentimes those used cars it seems like most of them need something in order for us to get it to pass safety inspection. So another thing is all these used-car lots and dealerships with used cars if they don’t have to follow some kind of safety protocol in order to sell the cars or register the cars it might change the way they do things. They may sell cars that have bald tires because they’re able to; now you can’t cause you can’t sell a car and get it registered for the customer if it has bald tires, or the brakes are too low or the lights don’t work, or the power steering leaks or it’s got broken windows or the doors won’t open.”

VOICE-OVER: Despite his concern about the possible effects of Representative Dougall’s bill, Astle seems open to aspects of it.

JIM ASTLE: “Doing a safety and emissions on new cars that are under 3 years old probably doesn’t need to happen because the manufacturer warranty covers it, so there is no reason why somebody wouldn’t repair whatever the car needed because it’s under warranty. It’s a new car, they have no out-of-pocket expense, and they are generally going to fix everything that’s wrong with it. After three years, then it falls out of manufacturer’s warranty and it starts coming out of their pocket – now they can start making decisions that may not be in the best interest for safety, but may be in the best interest for their pocketbook.”

VOICE-OVER: So what do YOU think about Representative Dougall’s proposal? Should the state of Utah get rid of safety inspections entirely and change the requirements for emissions testing? Are car safety and emissions requirements simply unnecessary and intrusive regulations, or are there legitimate reasons for Utah to require safety and emissions testing on cars in the state? For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young, reminding you that policy, good or bad, changes lives!

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  • Diane

    I hope it goes through. I agree with an inspection somewhat but the way the emissions test is done in UT is ridiculous. They don’t even check for emissions. They check the engine light which could be a number of things that have nothing to do with the emissions of a car.

    • Max

      Whenever the check engine light (MIL) is iluminated, it’s the car’s way of telling you that something has happened that is allowing more emissions out of the tailpipe than is allowed.  There are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong which will cause your car to put out more emissions than it should.  It is the EPA that has required automakers to use the check engine light in this way, not UT. 

  • Greg

    I do think there is some value in safety and emissions testing, but every year is too frequent.  Maybe every 2-3 years would be a better option.

  • Kaye

    Get rid of the testing! Don’t we get tested enough in Utah?

  • Duane

    I would first point out that Jim Astle is not exactly an unbiased party to this discussion, since he makes his living testing and repairing cars. I have also had repair folks try to tell me that something had to be fixed or replaced to pass when in fact I read the law itself and it was not required.

    Next, I point out that the brake check is now a joke, since if the brakes are within two days of scraping metal-on-metal, they pass if the braking force is equal and two days later the repair shops get to charge obscene amounts to replace rotors or drums that would have been saved had the pads been looked at. This has happened to members of my family twice in the last year or two.

    Last, I don’t see any reference to data that shows that the things that are checked in a safety inspection are causing more accidents in states where those things are not inspected. That is the most important bit of data to look at. Any discussion about safety inspections without addressing that is just a lot of hot air.

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