LAWMAKER pushes for quick end to vehicle inspections

Wednesday, May 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's vehicle inspection program will be abolished sooner than expected if a state lawmaker has his way.

Legislation to eliminate the program upon Gov. Frank Keating's signature has emerged from a House-Senate conference committee with strong support, said Rep. James Covey, D-Custer City.

The measure, already agreed to by House conferees, was circulating through the Senate Tuesday to gather additional support, Covey said.

A bill that abolishes the program was signed by Keating on May 1. But the measure was not scheduled to go into effect until Aug. 25 _ 90 days after final passage by the Legislature.

Covey said he wants vehicle inspections to end sooner to prevent law enforcement agencies from writing tickets to motorists who don't bother to renew their inspection stickers.

Law enforcement agencies have said they will use discretion when enforcing the vehicle inspection law but stopped short of promising not to write tickets to motorists with expired stickers.

``All you've got to get is one community to start enforcing it and you've got a lot of problems,'' Covey said.

An earlier effective date was requested by the Department of Public Safety, said Assistant Commissioner Kevin L. Ward.

Ward said the department was concerned about confusion among local police and sheriff's departments as well as the public over whether the vehicle inspection statute would be enforced prior to its effective date.

The measure signed by Keating does away with the state's 31-year-old safety inspection program and eliminates all but $1 of the annual $5 inspection fee.

The $1 fee is collected by the state and will be added to motorists' tag fees to be paid when the tag is renewed each year. The money buys new highway patrol vehicles and helps finance the state trooper retirement system and the general revenue fund.

Oklahoma began its inspection system to comply with a federal mandate that has since been repealed. Oklahoma was one of only 13 states that had retained vehicle inspections.

Supporters of the program said abolishing it could increase the number of unsafe cars on Oklahoma highways.

But opponents said cars and highways are safer than they were when the inspection program was launched.

Opponents also said the program created a hardship for motorists, especially in rural areas, who are forced to wait in long lines to get their vehicles inspected by a shrinking number of inspectors.

Covey said some inspection stations plan to discontinue the program before it is legally abolished, causing the number of inspectors to decline further.

The measure is House Bill 1728.