“Safety” Inspections

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Government is nonsense and force — assembled in either order.

Those mandatory “safety” inspections most of us are forced to deal with every year, for instance.

The presumption underlying them is, of course, that because some people are fools everyone must be presumed a fool. Smith does not take care of his vehicle; he drives around on bald tires. He lets his brake pads wear down to nothing. The government must protect us from Smith by imposing hassle and expense on Jones… and everyone else, too.

It does not matter that Jones isn’t a fool. That he periodically checks his car over to make sure it’s safe to drive and makes repairs as necessary. Just as it does not matter — to the eyeless, thoughtless, rights-rending monster that is government (and its Little Helpers, of course) that most people are not “dangerous drunks” (or “terrorists”). They must be presumptively treated as such. In order to assure “safety” and “security.”

You may have noticed a common thread. The ancient doctrine that a man is innocent until proved guilty has been eroded to the point of practical nonexistence. The new doctrine — its reverse, that all men are to be presumed guilty (of everything/anything without limit) until they prove to the satisfaction of the government that they are innocent — has replaced it. Not yet de jure. The system still pays lip service top the old doctrine (just as the most authoritarian regimes trumpet the “freedoms” their subjects lack the loudest). But, de facto, innocence is no longer any meaningful defense against, well, anything the state may decide to do to you.

Those state “safety” inspections can be used to make the point.
Each year, in my state, I am required by law to take each of my seven vehicles in to be “inspected” — on my time and at my expense. It does not matter that I know this exercise is a massive waste of my time and money, since I know my vehicles are “safe.” I am very conscientious about my vehicles (being consciously concerned about my own safety as well as the safety of others) and so keep track of such things as the condition of the brakes, the tread left on the tires, whether the signal lights are working — and so on. I also know I am competent to do the repairs — and feel more comfortable driving a car that I know is in good order because I keep it in good order.

None of this matters.

I must prove to the satisfaction of a minion of the state that the car is, in fact “safe.” Indeed, the car is presumed to be unsafe irrespective of its actual mechanical condition. And, here’s the real kick in the crotch: I am subject to violence — to being waylaid at gunpoint by armed gangsters (i.e., the police) if I do not obtain the inspection irrespective of the actual condition of my car, its tires, its brakes (and so forth). Innocence is no defense. Just as one need not be “drunk” in order to be treated as presumptively drunk at a “sobriety checkpoint”. Refuse to take their tests? You are as guilty under the law as if the floorboards were littered with empty fifths of Jack Daniels. Even if, later on, you demonstrate beyond any doubt that you were completely sober at the time of your arrest and caging. Just as it will be deemed irrelevant if you provide incontestable evidence that your car was in sound mechanical condition when you were stopped by the armed gangster.

Failure to submit and obey — that is the real crime, as far as the government is concerned. Whether you are (or are not) actually guilty of the window-dressing “offense” is beside the point. You must stop at the checkpoint and prove that your are not drunk. It is not necessary for the cop to prove that you are “drunk” in order to remove you from your vehicle, arrest and cage you. Nor for the court, later on, to suspend your privilege to travel unmolested. Just as one must set aside “x” block of time, once each year, to wait on line for a government agent to “inspect” a vehicle that you know perfectly well needs an “inspection” like a fish needs a bicycle. Adding injury to insult, you are forced to pay for this. If you, like me, own multiple vehicles, the total sum is not trivial. In my state (VA) the mandatory annual inspection is $15. I own seven vehicles. That’s another $105 out the window — and into the hands of government — each year. Over the course of 20 or 30 years, it amounts to several thousand dollars.

In return for absolutely nothing useful to me or anyone else not on the receiving end of the money or the sick joy some get from ordering others about.

But most people not only accept this — they endorse this. They have swallowed — hook, line and sinker — the authoritarian coda of presumptive (and collective) guilt. What a given individual has actually done — or can reasonably be suspected of having maybe done, based on specific things that can be articulated and pointed to and which a third party, of reasonable mind, would agree constitute reason for suspicion — that’s all been thrown in the woods. Presumptive, collective guilt has replaced it, to such an extent that most people embrace it implicitly and (much worse) unconsciously. The idea is not only hardly ever questioned, it is almost never mentioned.

Cry “safety” — and “security.”

Then, submit — and obey.



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4 Responses to ““Safety” Inspections”

  1. Ron says:

    Though I am sympathetic to the libertarian sentimests you express in the article, I think a lot more traction is to be gained by citing the studies that show vehicle safety inspection programs have no measureable effect on highway safety. They are nothing more than a waste of time and money; which is why a number of state legislatures in recent years have dropped them.

  2. Kris says:

    Sigh. Here we go. Peters clearly wishes he was living in a libertarian utopia. Pity the poor sucker – HIS cars are safe, so he must be inconvenienced? Poor little princess, my heart bleeds.

    First off, I am a licensed mechanic in a Canadian province where annual safety inspections are mandatory. This province also uses salt every cold winter and winter tires aren't a luxury, they're a necessity – but I digress.

    Peters argues that since he keeps his cars in good shape, his word should be enough (along with vague anti-police sentiments that have nothing to do with the issue at hand). Well, in my profession, not a day goes by where I don't see some deplorable example of neglect or abuse which makes me realize that anything could be coming at me in the oncoming lane. You don't know if some jackass with loose ball joints is gonna hit a pothole right in front of you. Or the guy in the rainstorm with one wiper blade and a crack directly in his line of sight. Or the guy with brakes worn down to the metal and it's your kid running across the road. Mandatory safety inspections may not have to be yearly, but jeez, the average "clover" on the road has no idea that tires are supposed to have a minimum pressure.

    Don't believe me? Hop on over to the Just Rolled Into The Shop subreddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/justrolledintotheshop . I see stuff like this all the time. Ask yourself if that's what you want on the road. And shiver when you realize that it's all around. And in areas where there is no official pressure to keep junk off the roads, that's what's whizzing past you all the time. Yeah, you could be the best driver in the world, with the planet's best example of a '76 Firebird. But when the poor bastard who pops a bald tire in his clapped out '97 Corolla loses it and creams you, and there's no legal repercussions because there's no mandatory safety inspection and thus no legal requirement for a minimally safe vehicle – well, chalk your loss up to the fact that you personally want no government "intrusion".

  3. Soby says:

    Hah. $15. Try $35 in Massachusetts (just raised from $29). Your 7 cars would be $245/year here in inspections alone.

    Also, I think you acknowledge that Smith exists and is a fool. If given free reign, bad things will happen to Smith and possibly those around Smith. How should we make sure Smith never gets the chance while not harassing everyone else?

  4. Brian Z says:

    well said.