Good intentions gone awry: Mississippi's ineffective vehicle inspection sticker program finally ends

A four decades-old example of government good intentions gone awry will end July 1 when the state of Mississippi halts its requirement for motor vehicles to have inspection stickers.

Since the sticker law went into effect (Richard Nixon was president then), millions of man/woman hours have been spent by Mississippians having to take time from work or other pursuits to go to an authorized shop and wait to get a $5 sticker certifying that their vehicle met basic safety criteria.

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While the aim of the law was to target clunkers with inoperable lights, wipers, windshields cracked like spider webs, bald tires, etc., the well-intentioned lawmakers didn’t count on the desire of some vehicle owners to thwart the law and the willingness of some shops to skirt the law.

The result: quite quickly there became a somebody-who-knows-somebody network of shops that would slap on a sticker and look the other way. “Gee, officer,” the owner of the clunker could say, feigning innocence, “That windshield got all those cracks two days after I got this brand new sticker.”

With broken windshields a way of life on Mississippi highways, even owners of newer cars, sound in every other respect, were reluctant to go to a shop where they knew they’d get turned down and be forced to pay $200 or more for a new windshield.

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Most shops weren’t fans of the inspection program. They got $3 per sticker, which, many griped, in no way compensated them for employee time or the records they had to keep.

“We sometimes get additional work — a new headlight or tail light, or wipers,” one shop manager told me. “If there’s a legitimate shortcoming, company policy is that we have to refuse the sticker. But if it’s something expensive, like a new windshield, in all likelihood the owner will go someplace where they can get a sticker no questions asked.”

One legislator, commenting on the law’s ineffectiveness, noted: “Everybody knows where to go for a 10-second inspection.”

Another shop owner, who does a lot of farm-related business, told me, “If one of my farmer customers wants me to put a sticker on his pickup that has a cracked windshield, you think I’m going to jeopardize thousands of dollars of tire/equipment service business and his goodwill by telling him I can’t put a $5 sticker on his pickup?”

Aside from the millions of wasted man hours, state citizens paid untold millions in fines over the years for having expired stickers (something easy to overlook). In 2013, nearly 40,000 tickets were issued for not having a current sticker. The fine varies by location, but is usually about $125.

A number of states, including neighboring Arkansas, have done away with vehicle inspection requirements, terming them ineffective. Fewer than 20 states still require inspections.

Attempts to scrap the Mississippi law have been ongoing since 2008. Each year, the House overwhelmingly voted to scrap the law, but it died in the Senate. This year, it finally passed and the governor signed it. Hallelujah!

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