NH Senate panel frowns on bill to ease vehicle inspection requirements

Holly Ramer/AP file photo

By RICK GREEN

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 05-08-2024 11:30 AM

A state Senate panel pumped the brakes Tuesday on a House-passed bill that would allow motorists to skip inspections on brand-new cars for at least two years.

The Senate Transportation Committee recommended unanimously that the full Senate take no immediate action on House Bill 1391, but instead make it the focus of a study to be conducted before next year’s legislative session.

The full Senate will eventually consider the bill, which passed the House, 219-145, on March 14.

Before making the interim-study recommendation on the inspection bill, the Senate panel listened to more than 90 minutes of testimony.

Some speakers asserted that the inspection law provides an important safety check, and that no changes are needed. Others said these inspections are a waste of time and money, particularly on newer cars.

State Rep. Matthew Coker, R-Meredith, the sponsor of HB 1391, said there’s no evidence that the inspections improve highway safety.

Coker said the best analysis he could find on the safety value of vehicle inspections was a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in 2015.

The report said data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that vehicle component failure is a factor in about 2 to 7 percent of traffic crashes.

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“Given this relatively small percentage as well as other factors — such as implementation or increased enforcement of state traffic safety laws — that could influence crash rates, it is difficult to determine the effect of inspection programs based on crash data,” the report said.  

Coker said his bill would save New Hampshire consumers about $4 million yearly. Inspections generally cost $50. The bill’s fiscal note says that last year in New Hampshire, mechanics did safety inspections on 82,713 new vehicles.

Coker said he purchased a brand new truck last year. It was inspected around the time of purchase and had to be re-inspected seven months later. The state requires inspections 10 days after a car is newly registered. Subsequent inspections are required yearly in the registered owner’s birthday month.

“If we’re going to ask people to do something, we need to have a good reason to ask them,” Coker told the Senate committee. “And I think asking people with brand new cars to come in seven months after they buy their car to get it inspected, that’s just not something we should be doing.”

In an interview after the committee hearing, Coker said there are vested business interests in favor of maintaining the status quo.

“If you had a government-mandated program that forced people to come to your business every year, regardless of whether they need to go or not, that’s pretty nice,” he said.

Repair shop owners and dealership representatives spoke against the bill, saying even new cars can have problems. They said safety issues such as worn tires and brakes can occur relatively early in a car’s life, depending how many miles are driven, particularly given the snow, ice and road salt present in New Hampshire.

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, whose district includes Jaffrey and several other Monadnock Region towns, said her car “broke down on the side of the road today and I had to call Triple A.”

She said a solution should be identified to the issue Coker encountered in which his new car had to be inspected twice in seven months.

But Ricciardi said the state’s inspection law ensures safety for the motorist and fellow drivers. Sometimes motorists first learn of recall orders when they take their car in to be inspected, she added.

Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, whose family owns the Fenton Family Dealerships, is also on the Senate Transportation Committee and has also opposed the bill. 

Dan Bennett of the N.H. Automobile Dealers Association said the New Hampshire climate is hard on cars. He acknowledged that New Hampshire’s safety inspection law is more stringent than many other states, but added the state also has more severe weather.

“A lot of other states don’t spray liquid saltwater on their roads that then gets on the undercarriage of cars and then erodes metal and cable and hoses,” he said.