Utah vehicle safety inspections drop 92%, crashes related to equipment failure remain flat
Apr 18, 2023, 8:37 AM
SANDY, Utah — From brakes to tires, manager Chris Pappas at Hillside Tire & Service said folks are waiting too long to fix big issues.
“Since we quit doing safety inspections, most people don’t get their car checked on a regular basis,” Pappas said. “Whereas before, when we did safety inspections, you had to have one performed yearly, you would be aware of problems with your car.”
Mandatory vehicle safety inspections were abolished in 2017 through HB267. Bill sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, at the time a state representative, reasoned then that safety inspection requirements simply led to delayed needed repairs until the annual check.
Since then, the number of safety inspections performed has dropped by 92%.
According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, more than 1.8 million inspections were performed in 2017, the last year of the mandatory program.
Last year, only 150,764 safety inspections were performed.
Enforcement on equipment varies
Making sure vehicles on the road are mechanically sound now falls increasingly into the lap of the Utah Highway Patrol.
“We’ve tried to educate the public about equipment laws and make sure they know that they’re still applicable,” said UHP Lt. Matt Spillman.
Court data obtained by KSL Investigators showed a big spike in tickets given for unsafe vehicles in 2019, with 7,729 cases statewide.
“2019 saw a significant increase in equipment enforcement contacts,” Spillman explained. “This was shortly after the law change and we believe was primarily the result of a significant emphasis on equipment enforcement by UHP leadership.”
That changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Spillman cited “challenges…including both the COVID pandemic and civil unrest unlike we had ever before seen in Utah” in 2020 for a drastic reduction in tickets given. Labor shortages of “80-100 troopers departmentwide” were to blame in 2021 for another drop in enforcement.
While the number of equipment violation tickets did increase last year, Spillman said there is one thing they regularly see that is problematic.
“Violations are still out there like they always were,” Spillman said. “One of the violations that we’re the most concerned with right now is tires.”
Bad tires are the number one issue when it comes to crashes involving equipment as a contributing factor, with 590 crashes involving faulty tires in 2022.
It’s significantly higher than faulty brakes, which was the second-leading cause of these types of crashes last year, with 131 accidents.
Getting pulled over for a safety violation is a primary offense, but Spillman said they’re not always easy to spot.
“Sometimes we don’t see those until they’re on the side of the road, crashed,” he explained.
Last year, troopers made 46,226 equipment enforcement contacts with motorists, a 39% increase from 2017.
Spillman indicated there are five parts of the vehicle that they check during these contacts: glass, altered suspension, tint, lighting and tires.
Drop in inspections, crashes remain level
Despite the drop in safety inspections, and increase in tickets, crashes due to equipment have remained at a relatively flat rate since 2017.
Last year, 1,223 crashes happened on Utah roads where equipment was named as a contributing factor. That’s compared to 1,237 such crashes in 2017, when safety inspections were still mandatory.
“It really does surprise me,” Pappas said, “because what we see, the amount of cars that we see that shouldn’t pass a safety inspection, has greatly increased since they abolished the program.”
KSL Investigators reached out to McCay and the original bill’s cosponsor, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, to find out if they feel the data shows their bill is working as intended. Neither chose to speak with us on camera.
Henderson’s spokesperson told us, “She was inclined to let the data speak for itself.”
Currently, 16 states have some kind of mandatory safety inspection in place.
Pappas said he hoped some kind of inspection would be revived in the statehouse.
“There’s just too many vehicles out on the highways that are unsafe,” said Pappas. “I don’t want a car with bald tires running around on the road with my wife, my children and my grandchildren out on the road.”
Keeping cars safe
Keeping your vehicle safe falls to the owner. Though safety inspections are not mandatory, they are still available at nearly 1,900 sites across Utah and cost around $30.
Often, they can be done when taking your car in for an oil change.
As for tires, Pappas showed an old but reliable trick to make sure you don’t end up crashing on the side of the road by using a penny to check your tread.
“You simply take (the penny) head down and stick it in the tire,” said Pappas, “and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, then your tires are worn out and in need of replacement.”
- Feb. 12, 2020: Unchecked Dangers: Citations up two years after end to mandatory safety inspections
- Feb. 21, 2019: KSL Investigators uncover rise in unsafe vehicle tickets after end of mandatory safety inspections
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