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What can you get for $1? Not an inspection


After last week’s column addressed why New Mexico no longer has a requirement that drivers get their vehicles inspected for road-worthiness, John Farris questions why go with no inspection instead of a better inspection?

He emails “I was born and raised in Albuquerque, worked in New York state for about 40 years and retired back in Albuquerque. It is great to be back home.” But.

“New York state required a complete vehicle inspection every year or perhaps two by a licensed inspection station,” John says. “Anything that failed had to be fixed before your vehicle could be driven. This kept rattletrap vehicles off the road, and logic tells me that this should reduce both accidents and insurance rates. Has anyone done a study to verify if this logic is true?” Oh yeah.

According to last year, 19 states have Periodic Vehicle Maintenance Inspections (PMVI). Some are annual, some biennial, some based on vehicle model year and some prior to sale only. A 2009 study for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation found “states with vehicle safety inspection programs have significantly less fatal crashes than states without programs. The benefits of the program as derived from all three models exceed the user costs of the program. The results of the research clearly demonstrate that the Vehicle Safety Inspection program in Pennsylvania is effective and saves lives.”

As to why New Mexico went with no inspection rather than a comprehensive safety inspection, Michael Wiener, the former Bernalillo County commissioner who was a public information officer for the New Mexico Division of Motor Vehicles back in the ’70s, says it boils down to $1.

That’s what state law set as the cost of a vehicle inspection, he explains, and when shops said they couldn’t afford to do comprehensive inspections – including pulling wheels off to inspect brakes – for $1, “the Legislature was unwilling to change the fee structure.”

The $1 fee hadn’t been changed since the 1950s, Wiener says, the inspections “became a joke,” and so the 1976 Legislature phased them out June 30, 1977.

AND THOSE FADED LICENSE PLATES: Wiener says he is busy trying to get the state to set a regular re-issue requirement for license plates. He says the last time New Mexico had a general re-issue was 24 years ago, in 1992.

License plates “have a manufacturer life expectancy of 7 years,” he says. “White and yellow are the most vulnerable colors” for sun fade and damage to the plastic sheeting, and those colors are used in the majority of New Mexico’s plates. Yet the state puts it on vehicle owners to replace their faded plates at $17 a pop, rather than honor manufacturer recommendations and re-issue plates every 7 to 10 years like other states.

“Here they demonize motorists at $17. Why would you pay to wait in line? … It’s really a mess.”

AN UPDATE ON SENIOR EXPRESS LINES AT MVD: Several drivers have called to say the state policy to give seniors and the disabled a break on waiting at state-run Motor Vehicle Division offices isn’t being practiced.

Weeden Nichols of Las Cruces writes “I am over 75 and so must renew my driver’s license every year. This entails only an eye check. I reported to the new MVD office in northeast Las Cruces in January to comply with this requirement. I had to wait two hours. All those ahead for driver’s licenses were customers with substantial business to address. My renewal, when finally it became my turn, took only five minutes. I asked why there was not a provision for expediting this very brief business that seniors have to accomplish every year.

“I was told that there is no provision for expediting the fulfillment of this requirement. I am over 75 and also disabled, but I was in no pain or discomfort. I just don’t think I should be subjected to such a time-consuming bottleneck to fulfill such a frequent, quickly-accomplished requirement.”

Suzanne Phelan emails “I, too, was told at Sandia Vista MVD office (in Northeast Albuquerque) that they never heard of special lines for seniors or disabled. Even when I asked to see the supervisor, I was told the same. How can I deal with this?”

And Frances Salazar called to say he ran into the same denial at the Montgomery office. “If they expect us to be there every year they should make the wait a little easier,” he says.

He ended up going to the Sandia Vista office on Menaul and got through quickly – but only because the lines were short, not because he got preferred treatment.

And that is wrong.

S.U. Mahesh, spokesman for MVD’s parent agency Taxation and Revenue, says when drivers go into a state-run office they should be greeted by a customer service representative who prioritizes drivers and guides them to the proper line.

‘We’ll talk to them,” he says. “Everyone has been notified multiple times on this service again and again. It’s the right thing to do. If they are not providing it we will take action.”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.