The improvements in car safety technology over the past 20 years have caused a number of lay people and government officials to question the efficacy of state-administered mandatory vehicle inspections. Only 16 of the U.S.’s 50 states require them, according to Economics student Alex Hoagland, and those that don’t have not noticed a corresponding rise in accident fatalities due to car failure. Hoagland won first place in his department for the presentation of his research results in BYU’s recent Fulton Conference, sponsored by the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.
Under the direction of Professor Lars Lefgren, he and his co-researcher Trevor Woolley had studied fatality rates in car accidents, by state, that were caused by car failure. Why did they choose this topic? He said, “In our training in the Econ program, Trevor and I felt that many of our economics projects lacked real investigative questions. Therefore, we decided to do something real, and reached out to our local representatives. We got in contact with Rep. Norm Thurston, who had previously become interested in the topic of vehicle safety inspections and was looking for some new research on the topic. He urged us to choose that as our topic for our Applied Econometrics class project, and so we did.”
Alex’s research contributes to a large body of research that shows no conclusive evidence exists between vehicle safety inspections and a reduction in mechanical-error car accidents. According to the Libertas Institute, a Utah think tank: “comprehensive studies show that there is no link between mandatory inspections and a reduction in vehicle failures or fatalities, so in absence of that justification, the program should not exist. And now it won’t, once the governor signs it.” Governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law in March of 2017, and it will take effect in January 2018.
Senator Jim Dabakis corroborated this, saying: “The statistics from all of the states that have revoked and done away with these mandatory inspection systems; the statistics are out, there is no safety increase for the states that have this.”
If these inspections aren’t helping, why do we have them? Alex theorizes that “…a lot of people have the preconceived notion that they must be useful for two reasons:
- we are all a little of the mindset that we are better safe than sorry, and
- we all assume that any existing government program must exist because it works.”
“However, if we stop to think about it, vehicle safety inspections are a byproduct of the 1930’s and 1940’s, when cars were at their worst. With advances in technology and increases in driver awareness, however, it seems obvious that what worked for the 30’s and 40’s wasn’t going to work now.”
He suggests that states should instead be focusing on things like distracted drivers, seat belts, and drunk driving. Alex hopes that through his research, governments will be able to make their roads safer: “We want to help state governments focus their attention on the areas where they can make the most impact in order to keep the roads, vehicles, and drivers safe.”
The Fulton Conference
Of his experience at the Fulton Conference, which is an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students in the college to share their research with members of the general public, Alex said: “[It] was an amazing opportunity to describe our research and receive feedback from our colleagues and professors. We also had a wonderful time surveying all of the other research going on in the school; it made me realize just how many bright and clever minds we have at this university working on complicated and important issues.”