Passenger vehicles should be mechanically fit but requiring a routine inspection by private repair shops does not achieve this objective. It's time to abolish this program.
Most jurisdictions don’t have these programs and many that did have abolished them. The hard evidence reveals that such programs are not cost-effective in improving road safety. Additionally, they are fraught with abuse and indiscretions on the part of private repair shops.
An estimated 308,0001 inspections are performed each year in Nova Scotia. The cost to the public including the inspection fees and prescribed repairs (many of which are unnecessary) are estimated at $100 million dollars annually. Add to this the hard and soft costs associated with lost productivity and mental anguish and you have a significant drain on the Nova Scotia economy.
The government wants us to believe that periodic inspections reduce the number of accidents caused by mechanical failure but there's a conspicuous absence of facts in their public statements. The Province has never released any statistical data that shows the effectiveness of the policy because no such data exists. The best they have is a logical hypothesis founded in anecdotes and beliefs.
Interestingly, in 2009, the government quietly reduced the requirement to every two years on used vehicles. Why? Because one person (Paul Westhaver) did his homework and presented evidence of abuse, incompetence and unscrupulous behavior by countless inspection stations. You need only read the announcement from the Nova Scotia Registry of Motor Vehicles that accompanies the change in the regulations to see the clear attempt to exacerbate the urban myth that the MVI program improves road safety. It is available here. The carefully written first paragraph is included below. Note that it does not cite any data and it neglects to mention that the majority of provinces and states don't have an MVI program.
"We listened to the concerns of Nova Scotians and reviewed our program as well as those in place across Canada and around the globe. The program is being re-designed to make it more in line with national and international motor vehicle inspection programs. We are making changes that will balance road safety and consumer protection for all Nova Scotians."
Interestingly, Nova Scotia was the first Canadian province to implement a mandatory inspection program back in 1967, however, the Province has never published any data which justifies its existence. If the program did improve road safety then the change in 2009 (from annual to every two years) should be evidenced in accident statistics. The history of mandatory inspection programs in Canada can be found in this research document from masters student, Justin Curtis Miedema, at Simon Fraser University in 2003.
Data which supports the theory that periodic inspections improve road safety is non-existent, however, considerable data demonstrates that there isn't a correlation let alone a causal relationship. Potentially worse is the "Peltzman effect" - that people increase their risk tolerance and drive more aggressively because they perceive that their 'safety inspected' vehicle will protect them. If you accept that the variables of cars, roads and drivers are substantially the same in the US as they are in Canada, then the hard evidence out of the US should convince you that it's time to scrap the Nova Scotia MVI program altogether.
A June 2014 story from NBC affiliate WHEC of Rochester does a nice job summarizing the data. An excerpt follows:
The U.S. Census Bureau tracks traffic fatality rates for each state. Among the top five states with the lowest rates: only one of them requires annual safety inspections, Massachusetts. The rest of them including Connecticut and New Jersey don't have them at all.
LOWEST FATALITY RATES: Massachusetts 0.6 -- Annual Safety Inspections Connecticut 0.7 -- No Safety Inspections Minnesota 0.7 -- No Safety Inspections New Jersey 0.8 -- No Safety Inspections DC 0.8 -- No Safety Inspections
How about the states with the highest fatality rates? Louisiana and West Virginia require inspections each year. The other three don't.
HIGHEST FATALITY RATE: Montana 2.0 -- No Safety Inspections Arkansas 1.8 -- No Safety Inspections Louisiana 1.8 -- Annual Safety Inspections South Carolina 1.8 -- No Safety Inspections West Virginia 1.8 - Annual Safety Inspections
North Carolina Program Evaluation Division (an independent body which evaluates government programs) in 2008 issued a report titled "Doubtful Return on the Public's $141 Million Investment in Poorly Managed Vehicle Inspection Programs", which is also based on solid research, clearly invalidates the logical hypothesis upon which the Nova Scotia program is based. The report is available here.
Putting aside the urban myth that inspections improve road safety, there's another really good reason to scrap the MVI program - the egregious conflict-of-interest that is enshrined in the legislation. The government has delegated the authority to do the inspections to the very people that profit from the repairs which they deem necessary in order to pass inspection. Whether or not a part passes or fails is subject to considerable discretion.
I had an experience with an inspection that motivated me to advocate for the abolishment of the Nova Scotia inspection regime. I had my vehicle inspected by three different repair shops (all well known) and each of them returned significantly different results. One shop advised that the vehicle failed on eight (8) items costing more than $1,400 to rectify, another advised of two items costing $900 and the last advised of only one small item, the odometer light, which they didn't estimate but was less than $100 for parts and labour to repair.
A few months ago, I commissioned a survey on the inspection program and the results clearly indicate that the majority of the public do not support the program.
The following is a summary of the results:
Do you feel that the motor vehicle inspection program improves road safety?
No - 69% Yes - 22% Not Sure - 9%
Do you believe that some private repair shops (inspection stations) abuse their authority and prescribe unnecessary repairs?
Yes - 88% No - 5% Not Sure - 7%
The survey also enabled people to describe their experiences in having their vehicles inspected. The consistency in the responses is striking.
“I have been rejected at one shop and told of repairs needed only to go to another shop and told of a different repair needed to pass MVI.”
“Went to one station list 6 problems left and went to another station only two problems”
“Tried to tell me that front ball joint was shot and it wasn’t so I took my truck to another shop and they couldn’t find anything wrong with it”
“Private repair shops are incentivized to find faults that require repair because the MVI is mandatory.”
“Took my 2012 F150 truck into the Ford dealership for a free inspection last week. Came out with a list of parts that needed to be changed. Both lower control arms, upper left control arm, and whole new park brake assembly. Cost with labor was $2195. Went to another service center for a second opinion, told me there was nothing wrong with my control arms, removed my back rotors and lubed my park brake assembly and cables. Park brake is working fine now. They charged me 1 hr labor and the price of a inspection. Never going back to that Ford dealership again.”
“I've never had a $35 MVI cost me any less than $750 in "required" repairs.”
“Told I needed brake work, when it didn't and they tried to rip off my wife . I set them straight . and their answer was most people wouldn't know that. I never went back.”
“Went to 3 different shops and they all stated different work was required to pass.”
Nobody knows how many thousands of unnecessary repairs are being performed every year. When it comes to MVIs, a few millimeters of play in an expensive-to-replace ball joint can be deemed a basis for a rejection. The MVI regime is toxic. Sprinkle a quantity of unscrupulous or incompetent repair shops and you get what we have - a useless program which is ineffective and abused.
This program must be scrapped in favor of a modern set of regulatory requirements. Passenger vehicles should be mechanically fit for the road and the enforcement of such should be the same as impaired driving. Cars don’t cause accidents, drivers do. Impaired, aggressive and distracted driving is where legislators should be focused, not vehicles.
Recent news and research related to mandatory routine inspection
1 Statistics Canada 2018 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=2310006701&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.4 615,897 motor vehicles registered in Nova Scotia, each requiring a biennial inspection means half, or 308,000 vehicles, being inspected annually.