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Florida could use a return of vehicle safety inspections

Q: Having lived in Florida for almost five years and coming from a state that had annual vehicle safety inspections, I am curious why Florida does not require vehicle inspections on some regular basis. It seems that about the only time vehicles have all their lights working, brakes in good shape, tires with tread on them, and emission levels at a prescribed level is when the new cars leave the showroom. This may be true on "certified pre-owned" vehicles, too. I have seen cars practically every day (with Florida tags) that do not have all brake lights working; sometimes only one or even none. Is there some state requirement to have safe vehicles on the road? If not, why not? Seems to me that an annual fee of, say, $35-$50 would be a valid expense most would accept. Was there ever a time that Florida did have regular vehicle inspections? If so, when did they end, and why?

Richard Goodwin

Chances are there a few longtime Floridians out there who have fond memories of idling in line at open-air vehicle inspection stations on or about their birthdays they'd be happy to share with you. Back in the day, it was an annual obligation (like taxes) that was to be avoided at one's own peril (as in a ticket).

Federal law allows each state to set its own rules and standards regarding vehicle safety and emissions inspections. For nearly a decade, vehicles registered in six counties in Florida, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, were checked annually at a fee of $10 per vehicle to ensure they met the minimum standards for everything from exhaust levels to brakes, headlights, turn signals and horn functionality. Opponents argued that the inspections were a pain and because Florida had met federal emissions standards, there was no longer a reason to force Floridians to sit in lines at inspection stations inhaling exhaust fumes for however long it took to get through the process.

The Florida Legislature decided to end vehicle inspections in 2000. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who supported the elimination of emissions testing, cited the fact that air quality testing had shown that in all six counties conducting emissions testing, the air had significantly improved and that discontinuing the inspections would not harm air quality. Bush said too that the cost to Florida taxpayers —$52 million a year in 2000 — was too much of a burden.

The advent of the 1990 Clean Air Act certainly had an impact on the entire debate. And supporters of vehicle safety inspections will point out that because there are no longer checks and balances in place to keep hazardous or nuisance vehicles off the road, it does seem like more junk heaps have been on our roads in the past 12 years. So we're stuck with the braking vehicles with no brake lights, or turning cars without working turn signals, cars that leave mile-long, noxious vapor trails behind them and ridiculously loud mufflers.

Q: What is the law about using headlights in the rain? With all the bad weather lately, it has been a surprise to see so many vehicles driving around without headlights on.

Mary Anderson

This issue comes up a lot and judging from the Doc's reader mail, plenty of folks have had near run-ins recently with difficult-to-spot vehicles in heavy rain. This past week's tropical storm was an unfortunate reminder of how few drivers seem to remember to turn on their headlights when it's raining. Florida statutes require all vehicles on the road (this includes two-wheeled vehicles) to use "lighted lamps and illuminating devices … in the event of any rain, smoke, or fog." Good rule: if your wipers are on, your headlights should be, too. Not parking lights, not flashers, just your regular headlights.

Email Dr. Delay at docdelay@gmail.com to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions or follow Dr. Delay on Twitter @AskDrDelay. Questions selected for publication may be edited.

Florida could use a return of vehicle safety inspections 06/30/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 4:30am]
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