Other Voices

Stop! Texas Legislature, put an end to costly, unnecessary vehicle inspections

Here’s a winning issue for the 2019 Texas Legislature: ending the onerous and unnecessary vehicle inspection tax.

Abolishing it will save millions of Texans’ time and money, removing from their to-do lists a nanny-state chore that affords them zero benefit.

The research is settled, and the score isn’t even close. Annual vehicle “safety” inspections, which I call the “vehicle inspection tax,” do nothing to make our roads safer. In terms of crashes, injuries and fatalities on our roadways, a diverse set of high-standard academic and government studies prove that point.

Dr. Daniel Sutter, an economics professor at Troy University, has studied the issue extensively, and he’s comprehensively and conclusively made the case that state-mandated vehicle inspections have no value. His body of academic work has not been refuted.

Additionally, a February 2019 study from the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute found that “a very strong case for termination of inspections exists because the requirement fails to deliver safety benefits.” The Texas Public Policy Foundation has also called for the repeal of the vehicle inspection tax, as have other stakeholders such as AAA Texas.

Furthermore, few have more data on vehicles, collisions, injuries and deaths than the auto insurance industry. In 2017, they testified that a review of their extensive data showed no discernible difference in safety outcomes between states that do and do not mandate inspections. Texas is one of just 15 that still levies a vehicle inspection tax, and our roads are no safer than the 35 states that no longer levy this tax.

Texas is the last Republican-led state with this mandate, and we’re the last major populous state with it, too. Drivers in big states such as California, New Jersey, Illinois and Florida don’t have safety inspections, and neither do drivers in our neighboring states.

Frankly, that’s embarrassing, and it should motivate lawmakers to catch up. Ending the inspection tax on passenger cars will have no effect on the emissions tests that are federally required in only 17 out of 234 Texas counties. The so-called “safety” inspection hasn’t been federally required since 1976, and vehicles are vastly safer today.

This is an opportunity for a bipartisan win. The Senate Bill I authored in 2017 had two Republicans and six Democrats as coauthors. The bill passed the Texas Senate on a bipartisan 27-4 vote. In the House Committee on Transportation, it received a similarly bipartisan vote before the clock ran out on the session.

The $14.50 fee and the time involved are highly regressive, impacting low-income Texans the most. Ending the vehicle inspection tax will benefit 50,000 Texans each day, on average, saving them hundreds of millions in lost wages each year and at least $140 million annually.

The only opposition to ending the vehicle inspection tax comes from those who have a direct financial stake. Inspection stations worked hard against the bill, but so did another powerhouse of money, business, and politics: our new California-relocated Toyota manufacturing Co. and Gulf States Toyota, a legislatively-protected private distributor of Toyota vehicles.

Legislators should ask them this session: what’s your financial stake in inspections? They say they want consumers to have the benefit of getting recall information, although it’s difficult to stomach forcing many millions of Texas drivers to undergo an inspection so a car company can remedy its own manufacturing faults.

The Texas Legislature must end this antiquated program so we can restore our drivers’ economic liberty and put us on an equal footing with motorists in most other states. Let’s stop this rip-off, and seize a bipartisan opportunity to deliver a massive tax cut that will save Texans money and time.

Abolishing the vehicle inspection tax could be the most appreciated tax relief to come out of Austin in decades. Please immediately contact the lieutenant governor and your state senator and representative to support S.B. 1599 and HB 2696.

Don Huffines is a former Texas state senator representing District 16 in Dallas County.