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D.C. Ending Required Safety Inspections on Private Cars

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The District is ending its safety inspection program for most private cars Oct 1., leading some people to worry that area roads will soon be flooded with unsafe cars that could cause more accidents.

Emissions inspections will still be required every two years for all cars and trucks, as required by federal regulations, but motor vehicles that are not used for commercial purposes will no longer have to prove that they are road-worthy.

The Fenty administration and the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles persuaded the D.C. Council to approve the change this year as a way to save $400,000. In addition to helping to balance the budget, officials said, the change will relieve motorists of some of the hassle of owning a car in the District.

But safety advocates and the city mechanics who do inspections question the wisdom of the new policy in a community where they say thousands of residents fail to properly maintain their automobiles.

"You have an entire generation that is woefully unaware of when a car has real problems," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, who said 35 percent of inspected vehicles failed inspection last year in the District. "It's not only about unsafe roads in the District, but Maryland and Virginia as well."

The new policy will make the District the first jurisdiction in the mid-Atlantic region to drop all safety inspections for most private vehicles.

In Virginia, vehicles are required to pass inspection every year. Maryland does not have annual inspections, but used vehicles are supposed to be inspected before they are sold or transferred.

D.C. officials said that only about 20 states have inspection programs and that there is no evidence that routine inspections make District vehicles less accident-prone.

"It's a really burdensome requirement on drivers that has no effect," said Lucinda M. Babers, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

News of the change surprised some motorists who were waiting to have their vehicles inspected Monday at the inspection station on Half Street SW. Although many said they dread the biennial trip to the inspection station, they wondered how the city will ferret out faulty vehicles without the inspections.

"I prefer not to come here, but I sure do like to know about my vehicle and what needs to be done," said Sharnice Jones, 32, of Northeast Washington.

In the District, vehicles that go through a DMV inspection are checked for about 81 safety issues, including missing seat belts, balding tires, worn brakes, cracked windshields and inoperable lights. After Oct. 1, only commercial vehicles, such as delivery trucks, taxicabs and buses, will have to pass inspection.


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