SALT LAKE CITY — Auto repair workers stood in the aisles of a packed room Thursday to tell lawmakers they feared for their jobs and thousands of their employees if the state cuts back on required vehicle safety inspections.
But Utahns, who would undoubtedly like to spend less time and money at auto shop, would be safer with more troopers on the road than with more inspections, countered the sponsor of the bill that would reduce the frequency of the inspections.
"It's a trade-off," said Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork. "Where do you invest the most resources for safety on our roads?"
If HB298 becomes law, auto safety inspections would be required when cars and light trucks are 4, 8 and 10 years old, then every year thereafter. Current law requires inspections every two years until a vehicle is 8 years old, and then each year after that.
The proposal would allow the Utah Highway Patrol to re-assign six troopers, who administer the inspection program, to patrol duty, Dougall told the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which passed the bill on a 13-2 vote.
The Utah Department of Public Safety supports the measure, said department director Lance Davenport. The proposal would reduce safety inspections each year from 1.7 million to 1.1 million, he said.
"Equipment failure is not a major cause of crashes," Davenport said. Speeding, impaired driving, improper restraint and other factors cause more accidents and fatalities, he said.
"We need more troopers on the highway," he added. "We've been asking for that for years."
The bill was a compromise to Dougall's original proposal to do away with most state safety inspections altogether. Requirements for emission inspections would not be affected.
Davenport said DPS officials would prefer to keep both inspections as they are now and have more officers on the road. However, given the state's limited resources, the proposal would lead to safer highways, he said.
"It's a compromise that we feel we can support."
Before the standing-room-only audience, representatives of auto dealers and vehicle inspection shops told legislators that the measure would cut into their business and lead to employee lay-offs.
Jiffy Lube franchise owner David Neff estimated that the bill would lead to the loss of 9,000 jobs statewide.
It's a matter of safety, too. A father of 10, Neff said he often awaits his children's safe arrival home most Friday and Saturday nights.
"It's socially irresponsible to put our children in a position where they're less safe," he said, struggling to restrain his emotions.
The proposal would also leave inspection-only shops stuck with unneeded building leases and equipment, said Dan Northrup, representing the Vehicle Emission Testing Association. Business owners need more advance notice to prepare for lost revenue, he told lawmakers.
In response to that concern, the committe voted to set back the bill's effective date one year — July 1, 2013.
Contacted at his neighborhood auto repair shop in Salt Lake City, Bobby Rose said he's opposed to the proposal. From his experience, inspections turn up safety problems about 50 percent of the time, even if it's only a missing light bulb.
A car inspected Thursday at his 3rd Avenue car clinic turned up problems with wiper blades, a marker light assembly and a bad tire, Rose said.
His shop frequently services vehicles owned by out of state university students, he said.
"Some of these cars we've seen from up in Idaho have never seen a safety inspection, and it would scare you," he said. "If you see one, you need to pull over to the side of the road."
And Bountiful auto shop manager, Steve Eggleston, said inspections often turn up problems drivers aren't aware of — especially bad brakes, worn tires, and loose suspension and steering.
"Most people will come in and say, 'O.K., I want if to know if it's going to last another year,'" Eggleston said. "They rely on (the inspection) to tell them."