Virginia drivers could soon be paying more for their vehicle safety inspection if a proposal approved by state lawmakers is signed into law.
The General Assembly voted this week to raise the cost of the required annual inspection to $20 from $16, an increase that proponents said is necessary to keep the program effective as private inspectors drop out because they say the service costs more than what they are paid.
“Of this $4, nothing goes to the state. It all goes to the men and women who are doing these safety inspections,” Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), who sponsored the House bill, told lawmakers this month. “It costs more to do this than they are getting reimbursed; a lot of these people are dropping out of the program.”
Hugo said in some areas, especially rural parts of the state, fewer inspectors means longer wait times for vehicle owners.
Both chambers of the General Assembly have approved the legislation. A spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he will review the bill once it reaches his desk and declined to say whether the governor supports the measure.
Virginia is one of fewer than 20 states that require annual safety inspections, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress. The District does not require safety inspections for private passenger vehicles, but vehicles are required to pass federal emissions tests every two years. In Maryland, used vehicles are required to undergo safety inspections when they are sold or transferred.
About 8 million safety inspections are done annually in the commonwealth, according to Virginia State Police, which manages the program. About 1.3 million vehicles fail, Hugo said.
The inspection fee was last raised in 2006, state officials said.
“[Inspections] not only keep our cars safe, they keep us safe,” Hugo said.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and AAA support and promote the inspections.
“In our view, vehicle safety inspections help reduce avoidable crashes and traffic-related injuries and deaths on our roadways,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
But, he said, he anticipates that many drivers won’t like the fee increase.
“Like all consumers, motorists generally loathe and dislike fee increases,” Townsend said. “Yet the 25 percent fee increase will keep the vehicle inspection program on solid ground.”
The state approved an increase in the motorcycle safety inspection fee to $12 from $5 in 2005 and the following year approved a $1 increase for passenger vehicle and commercial vehicle inspections, to $16 from $15 and to $51 from $50, respectively.
The Virginia State Police receives 50 cents per inspection, and the inspector or inspection station gets the remaining $15.50. Hugo said the state receives about $22.7 million a year from the fees. Under the new bill, the state would continue to receive 50 cents per inspection.
Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.
State Del. Robert S. Bloxom Jr. (R-Accomack), an Eastern Shore native who owns auto repair and supply businesses, urged lawmakers to approve the increase, saying that in rural areas, inspectors are leaving the program.
“I know it’s an election year, so everyone is scared to death of fees. I get that,” Bloxom said before the chamber voted 66 to 30 in favor of the proposal earlier this month. The Senate voted Monday to pass a version of the measure on a 25 to 15 vote. And the House agreed to a Senate amendment and voted Tuesday to adopt it.
According to the state police, there are 4,342 vehicle safety stations statewide, down 11 from 2016. The number of inspectors is down 38 since 2016, to 12,961. But the state police said the number changes daily. All new-car dealerships perform inspections, and many garages that repair vehicles are licensed to perform the state inspections.
Bloxom said inspectors spend half an hour on each vehicle, inspecting the entire vehicle — tires and wheels, steering and suspension, brakes, mirrors, the horn, windshield wipers and the exhaust system.
Bloxom said that even at $20 an inspection, the shops are doing the work for less than half the price.
“This price has not been raised in 13 years,” Bloxom said. And “the shops that are left have long lines, and they can’t get the regular work done.”