Do car inspections save lives?

May 01, 2003, vo. 27, no. 1
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Justin Miedema, a SFU masters student in economics, has completed a thesis on mandatory vehicle testing.

Although more than half the U.S. states require mandatory vehicle testing, only three Canadian provinces - New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island - still require annual car inspections.

Do motorists in other Canadian provinces face an increased risk of injury or death as a result?

The answer, according to Justin Miedema, an SFU masters student in economics who has just completed a thesis on the topic, is “probably not. You would perhaps expect a trend showing the Maritime provinces are safer, but there is no clear evidence that proves mandatory vehicle inspections save a significant number of lives. They appear to reduce accidents by a very small number: perhaps .5 to one per cent.”

Miedema, now serving a second co-op term as a research analyst at B.C. Hydro, says he was surprised the evidence was not more clear-cut.

“One of the most revealing things I discovered was that the rates of injury, fatality, and collision damage have been falling steadily over the last decade across Canada, due, perhaps, to years of seat-belt, anti-drinking driving, and other safe driving campaigns. It's also worth noting that mechanical failure accounts for just 10 to 12 per cent of all road accidents, while alcohol and speeding account for about 30 per cent each.”

Miedema says his research showed that the Maritime public generally approved of the inspection programs, and that, not surprisingly, garage owners “were also supportive because it generates money for them.”
But he cautions that support for such programs has apparently little to do with politics or geography. “In the eastern U.S., you have Democrat-led states with vehicle inspection pro-grams, and then you have Texas, arguably one of most conservative states.”

He says the mechanics he interviewed suggest motorists living in areas without mandatory vehicle inspections should be alert for “four key things that can impact the safety of their cars.”

Drivers should check brakes regularly to ensure there's equal wear on the brake pads; check tire wear to minimize stopping distance; protect steering and manoeuvrability by making sure all ball joints are adequately lubricated; and adjust headlights so they don't blind oncoming drivers.

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