Pennsylvania measure would end inspections for new vehicles

Tests called moot due to better safety, pollution measures

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HARRISBURG -- New-car buyers often question why the state makes them get annual safety and emissions inspections on new vehicles, say two state senators from Western Pennsylvania.

So Sens. Elder Vogel and John Wozniak are trying to eliminate those requirements and their costs for buyers of new cars, but time is quickly running out on their bill that would do so.

Mr. Vogel, R-New Sewickley, introduced Senate Bill 1532, which would waive the annual emissions tests for 10 years for all new vehicles. The measure, which could come up for a vote in the Senate as soon as today, also would do away with the emissions tests for new vehicles that are powered by electric, hybrid electric and compressed natural gas engines.

The senators said that improvements in auto technology to reduce pollution and new safety features on cars have removed the need for annual inspections on new vehicles.

"Air quality has improved in Pennsylvania in recent years," Mr. Vogel said last week. "So few vehicles fail the emissions inspections -- less than one-quarter of 1 percent of new vehicles. [The testing requirement] is unnecessary on new vehicles."

He described the case of many senior citizens "who drive maybe 3,000 miles a year going to church or shopping or the doctor's office, but every year their car has to have an emissions inspection done. It's an undue burden on consumers."

The cost of emissions inspections varies but is generally in the range of $35 to $50 a year, he said.

Emissions tests are only required in 25 of the state's 67 counties now. This causes confusion and irritation in his multi-county district, Mr. Vogel said, because drivers in Beaver County have to get the inspections but those in Lawrence and Butler counties don't have to.

"Half of Ellwood City [the part in Beaver County] has to have emissions inspections, but the other half doesn't" because it's in Lawrence County, he said. "That's just the way the law was designed. I think it's ridiculous."

Mr. Wozniak, D-Cambria, added an amendment to the bill to waive the annual safety inspection for the first two years after a new car is purchased.

"It's an unnecessary expense to people," Mr. Wozniak said. "Maybe 25 years ago it was appropriate, but cars have become more efficient. Research shows that 98 percent of all cars pass the annual inspection."

He said he'd like to exempt new cars from safety inspections for more than just the first two years, but "you have to crawl before you can walk."

He said he's old enough to remember a time when the state required car owners to get safety inspections twice a year, but in the 1980s the state eased that to just once a year. Now, he said, it's time to give buyers of new cars their first two years without inspections. Most annual safety inspections cost in the range of $16 to $20.

Still, Mr. Wozniak said, "It's not uncommon for the average family to have two or more cars, so the expense can mount up." He also noted that a lot of states don't require annual safety inspections, as Pennsylvania does.

But time is a major problem for the legislation. The Senate meets for only three days this week and then is finished for the year. If the Senate approves the bill, it would go to the House, which meets today to Thursday and then goes home.

Even though the session doesn't end until Nov. 30, no more voting days are planned after this week.

Mr. Wozniak said that if nothing happens this week, the measure will be reintroduced when the 2013-14 session starts in January.

AAA spokesman Brian Newbacher said his group supports the bill and hopes the Legislature will act this week.

"The reliability of automobiles has increased greatly over the past decade, as has the emissions equipment on a car, including fuel injectors, catalytic converters and electronic ignition. It's helped clean up the air,'' he said. "It would be a great convenience for motorists if they didn't have the hassle and expense of these inspections.''

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Tom Barnes: or 717-623-1238.


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