Here is a letter that Kathryn and Sybren mailed to the governor of Texas
Dear Governor Abbott,
My name is Kathryn van der Pol and my family owns one of the longest operating repair shops in Houston, Texas.
Our business was established in 1946 and we have been doing safety inspections for a long time. We are writing to explain why we think you should vote NO to SB 1588, the bill that would end the Texas Safety Inspection program.
First, I am going to describe three areas where current law is not stringent enough. Secondly, I am going to examine the arguments that Senator Huffines and others have used to justify its passage, and finally I have attached some photos.
Under current standards for TSI (Texas State Inspection), there is no requirement to inspect suspension or the undercarriage of the vehicle. What the state standard does inspect is looseness in the steering wheel. A standard size 14” steering wheel on a vehicle only fails if it has more than three inches of play. Play means excessive movement before the wheel turns. Groans and moans from the steering wheel do not fail a vehicle either. The effect of this means that citizens can be driving a potentially unsafe vehicle.
The current standard for play in the steering wheel is not a “safety” standard; it is a lack of a standard. It certainly does not meet industry standards.
The same is true of the tire standard. Under current law, while tires are inspected in the current safety program, the standard is so low we pass unsafe tires all the time. The State standard is that each tread must have more than 1/16” or 2/32” of tread to pass. The industry standard is 1/8” or 4/32”. There is also a rule that states, “Any tire wear without tread wear indicators worn so that less than 2/32 of an inch of tread design depth remains when measured with a tread depth gauge at the lowest points in any two adjacent major grooves in the center or middle of the tire” (Sec. 20.29)* fails. Why does this matter? Two reasons: first, if two bald treads are not adjacent to one another, the tire must be passed.
Equally important, when we pass a car, we are implying that not only is the car legal, it is safe for another year. Under current law, the car that barely passes the State’s tire standard is not safe for a day. Tire failure is a leading cause of injury and fatality. Tires blow out because they no longer have enough tread (4/32 or less), are under-inflated, are dry-rotted or have bulges. Most bulges are inside the tire and are not visible to the State Inspector since the undercarriage is not an item of inspection. Manufacturers state tire rubber will last in most climates five to seven years. After that it becomes dry-rotted. Under current law, the age of a tire is not an item of inspection, although the date of manufacture is etched into every tire, meaning a Texas state inspector could check the age of the tires on the vehicle.
Finally, the brakes under current law can be bad and/or squealing and still pass. Current law states, “All vehicles so tested (in the brake test area) should be driven at a speed of 20 miles per hour and the vehicle must stop as indicated by the stopping distance chart.” (20.04.5)* For a passenger vehicle carrying less than ten people, that distance is 25 feet. This is a minimal stopping standard. In addition, there is no required visual inspection of the front pads. So, brake pads could be almost metal to metal as we say in our industry, meaning that there is less than 1mm of pad material. There is no way that reasonable people would say that the vehicle is “safe” for another year. Yet the car with thin or almost no brake pad material must be passed. The industry standard to replace brake pads is at 4mm.
There are many other items of inspection that I have not mentioned. The standards for these other items are also egregiously low. However, these three issues should make the point that if we take vehicle safety seriously in Texas then the standards should be increased rather than eliminated.
Now, I would like to discuss the reasons why the justifications for SB 1588 is based on faulty logic.
One reason given is that most other states have eliminated this program because Federal law no longer requires it. While this is true, why is that a good reason to eliminate the program? While growing up, were you ever told, “Just because all the other kids are doing this, doesn’t mean you should?”
More seriously, some have also stated that there are studies that show that the safety inspection programs have no measureable effect on reducing automobile injury or fatalities. When standards are as low as ours, that conclusion would be dictated by common sense. So this reason is also not a logical reason to end the program. If you research tire studies and current law suits against repair shops for failing to identify faulty tires, you would conclude that a safety program that actually required 4/32” might help reduce fatalities and injuries on our Texas roadways.
Another reason that is given to support SB 1588 is that it will save millions of man hours for people all over the state because they won’t have to get their car inspected anymore. This, too, is faulty thinking. People will still have emissions inspections in the major metropolitan areas (Houston/Galveston, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth and El Paso), so they are not going to save any time and that is a large percentage, if not, a majority of the population. So, that’s not a good reason either.
Finally, SB 1588 stipulates that DPS officers will be trained so they can pull over motorists for safety vehicle violations. Currently, DPS can pull over anyone driving an unsafe vehicle. The proposed law makes clear that the safety standards for operating a vehicle in Texas remain in effect. However, if this law passes and it becomes public knowledge that law enforcement will be trained to fill in the gap for a lack of safety inspection program, I don’t think that stopping a citizen and ticketing them for safety issues is going to be popular with the public. The taxpayers are not going to save money either. The $7.00 that is currently the cost of the safety inspection will be added to citizen’s annual registration fees and applied to training DPS officers on safety standards.
While an officer should pull over a motorist if the car is a hazard to the driver and other vehicles, there are many items of inspection that just are not going to be visible to a DPS officer. Whether it is a torn wiper blade or worn out tires or brakes, these are not visible on a moving vehicle.
I don’t know what the real reason is why this bill has been proposed, or why the Senate waived the customary three-day waiting period, but I hope I have persuaded you to VETO SB 1588 should it be approved by the Texas Legislature and to consider higher standards at least for tires.
Kathryn van der Pol, President
Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage
Friendly & expert service since 1946
Recipient of the 2013 BBB Awards for Excellence
Voted 2012 Best Mechanic in Houston by The Houston Press
Secretary, Automotive Service Association TEXAS
*Rules & Regulations Manual for Official Vehicle Inspection stations and Certified Inspectors.