For years state police have been cracking down on garages that are too lenient in allowing vehicles to pass state safety inspections. Now, they are preparing to tackle the other half of the problem – car owners who shop around for a garage willing to put a sticker on a vehicle that shouldn’t get one.
Under new rules that are currently being finalized by the Department of Public Safety, if a vehicle fails a safety inspection, a portion of the existing inspection sticker will be removed and a list of deficiencies will be given to the owner. If the owner goes to another garage, a mechanic there should notice the partial sticker and ask to see the list of problems and evidence that they were fixed.
Although some car owners and garages may still look for ways around the system, this is a good start. To take it a step further, the department should consider an increased fine for those who continue to drive a vehicle with a partial sticker. The current fine for driving with an expired inspection sticker is $122. The penalty for driving a car with known problems, as evidenced by a partial sticker, should be higher.
About 1,300 accidents a year in Maine are determined to be the result of mechanical defects, according to the State Police. That’s about 3 percent of the total. Some of the vehicles involved in these crashes had valid inspection stickers.
In August, a Greenville woman died when she was unable to stop the truck she was driving, which had been driven just 28 miles since passing a safety inspection, and it plunged into Moosehead Lake. In November, a girl in Corinth was killed after being hit by a vehicle that had been inspected the day before.
Police found safety defects in both vehicles and the garages that performed the inspections had their licenses suspended.
Last year, the State Police’s Traffic Safety Unit did 2,560 audits of the state’s 2,327 stations that perform state safety inspections. By watching inspectors and reviewing the number of stickers a station sells against the number of mechanics at the garage, the inspectors can determine if a garage is properly inspecting vehicles. Most cases are resolved with a warning, but about a quarter of the time, a garage’s license to inspect is suspended.
Turning attention to drivers is a logical next step because it is ultimately the owner’s responsibility to ensure a vehicle is safe.