Senate votes to abolish vehicle inspection program

Thursday, April 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Oklahoma lawmakers may be one step away from abolishing the vehicle inspection system.

The Senate voted 32-10 Thursday for a bill doing away with the program.

The measure returns to the House, which already is on record in favor of the idea.

``I certainly think we can muster the 51 votes necessary to pass it,'' said Rep. Richard Phillips, R-Warr Acres, the bill's author.

A similar bill by Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, passed the House by a wide margin earlier in the session.

Phillips' bill, House Bill 1081, originally dealt solely with cell phone use. It would prevent cities from passing laws to ban the use of cellphones while driving or in other instances, unless there was a similar federal law.

But Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, Senate author, won adoption of an amendment repealing the vehicle inspection program.

The amendment proposes to collect a $1 fee when a vehicle is registered to make up for money that the inspection program now raises for the state's law enforcement retirement fund and to purchase Oklahoma Highway Patrol vehicles.

Phillips said supporters also will have to convince Gov. Frank Keating to sign the measure.

The inspection program has been under attack for years. Among other things, critics cite the lack of enough inspection stations, which makes it difficult for motorists to comply with the law.

Phillips said the program penalizes everyone because a few people do not keep their vehicles in good shape.

He said police now have the authority to fine motorists who drive with broken tailpipes or broken signal lights.

Mechanics who perform the inspections argue the state should keep the program, but allow them to charge $10 or $12 per inspection instead of $5. Inspectors say they often detect potential safety hazards while performing the tests.

Mechanics are supposed to check exterior lights, the wear on tires, steering, brakes and the emissions systems. They are required to look under the hood and under the vehicle.

Oklahoma sold nearly 2.8 million inspections for vehicles and trailers last year, according to the Department of Public Safety.

The state charges $5 for an inspection and collects $1 of the fee, which raised about $2.7 million last year. The remainder went to inspectors.

About $500,000 of the state's portion of the inspection fee went toward the purchase of new highway patrol vehicles, and a little more than $1 million went toward the law enforcement retirement system. The balance, about $1.1 million, went into the general revenue fund.

Previous attempts to eliminate the program have died after opponents warned that it would cost the state federal highway funds.

But Phillips said that argument has been debunked.

Highway money is no longer tied to vehicle inspection programs. Twenty states still have the programs.