How good policy fails– an automotive case study

So, it turns out that safety and emissions inspections on cars within their first three years don’t accomplish that because not a lot tends to go wrong in that period.  Okay, then, why not make it so cars don’t have to be inspected until they are more than three years old.  Simple cost/benefit win– why waste the public’s resources on something that is rarely going to yield a meaningful benefit?  And, in fact, the NC legislature was rightly considering a bill to do just this.

That is, until all the automotive places that profit off of inspections (needless and necessary) started to complain to their Republican legislators.  They’re small businesses damnit!  From the N&O:

RALEIGH — Remember that proposal from House Republicans to stop making new-car owners get safety and emissions inspections until the cars were more than three years old?

Forget it.

As has happened in the past when legislators tried to ease North Carolina’s inspection requirements, the new proposal was killed Wednesday after a lot of phone-calling and letter-writing by garage owners who make their living from car inspections.

Sen. Jerry W. Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, protested that the measure would hurt garages, tire dealers and inspection stations – whose trade associations had lobbyists in attendance at the crowded meeting room.

“I know a lot of people who do this, and they sell some gas on the side, but most of their profit comes from these inspections,” Tillman said. “We have 7,500 small businesses that do these inspections.”…

Car owners statewide pay $13.60 for the annual safety inspection. The emissions inspection, required in 48 mostly urban counties, costs an additional $16.40. Studies have shown newer cars have fewer safety or emissions problems. State motor vehicle and air quality agencies have supported the proposal to end inspections for cars from the three most recent model years. [emphasis mine]

Wow, that’s brazen.  We’ll just ignore what a reasonable and presumably impartial analysis and our own state agencies suggest in order to unnecessarily line the pockets of “small business.”  How’s that free market working for you, Republicans?

Libertarian Political Science professor Mike Munger suitably goes to town on this mess:

If we accept Senator Tillman’s logic, presumably we will need to get rid of the police force.  After all, criminals make their living by stealing stuff.  The police interfere with that.  So, fewer police means that criminals will have an easier time making a living.

Not an honest living, perhaps.  But there is nothing “honest” about inspecting new cars that we all know will pass the emissions test, and that still have new headlight bulbs that won’t burn out for years…

So, the original bill would have saved taxpayers $30 million.  Our legislature has decided that $20 million of that should be set aside as a subsidy to people who provide pointless inspections, apparently at an enormous profit.  But we could eliminate the charade of the inspection, and just force car owners to fork over the cash directly, and save those car owners more than $10 million.

Pretty disgusting all-around.  And, of course Democrats are guilty of horrible policy decisions like this, too, there’s just not going against their “free market principles” when they do.  So, what’ s going on?  Pretty simple.  The benefits of this policy narrowly accrue to small segment of society– inspection station owners.  They fight tooth and nail to get and keep these benefits.  The needless costs are spread about the entire driving population of North Carolina and not many people are going to fight too hard over $30/year.  Of course, that’s why we have legislators to look out for our interests.  So much for that.

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