Opinion: Auto Safety Inspections Bill Would Protect Drivers and Pedestrians

How many vehicles on the road have faulty equipment? File photo

Last August, a 20-year-old Chevy Tahoe SUV careened across two lanes and slammed into me. I never saw it coming.

My sister and I were on a pleasant Sunday morning bike ride in Silver Spring. The crash broke my hip and fractured my pelvis on both sides. While I lay unconscious in the grass, my sister told me that the SUV driver exclaimed, “Oh my God! I’m so sorry! My brakes gave out. I was meaning to have them checked.”

She and her two-ton vehicle could have killed me and many others, perhaps even people you love.

Brakes don’t just “give out.” Mechanics see signs of wear early enough make a repair. But, it’s perfectly legal in Maryland to drive an older car around and never repair your brakes, broken seatbelts or wipers, or replace a faulty horn or threadbare tires.

Why do all of our neighboring states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia – require basic auto safety inspections? Because their legislatures have taken seriously their responsibility to protect residents from the killing machines on our roads. Why didn’t my state of Maryland protect me, or over 10,000 other Marylanders who were in car crashes caused by equipment failure in the last three years?

Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.

I spent 11 days in the Shock and Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, on opioids for excruciating pain. Then 27 days in a rehab facility in Chevy Chase, diapering myself and using a wheelchair to get around. When I was discharged, I had no choice but to rent a one-story AirBnb for six weeks, because I couldn’t ascend stairs to my house. After two and a half months away from my 16-year-old daughter and husband, I returned to my home with my walker, shower bench, commode and newly installed banisters.

CareFirst BlueCross shelled out a whopping $66,000 for my medical care. My out of pocket costs exceeded $12,000. All this might have been avoided if Maryland required the owner of that SUV to spend $45 every two years to get her car inspected then fixed. A driver’s license and excellent driving skills don’t matter much if a vehicle is dangerous in ways that aren’t visible to police.

When I went before the Judicial Proceedings Committee last month to tell my story, a member of the Senate decried Senate Bill 566 as imposing a burden on low-income families because “their cars would be taken off the road just for pushing the envelope.” I am that envelope.

In fact, SB 566 would protect low-income families. It protects them from getting injured in or by dangerous vehicles. It protects minimum wage workers from lost income and lost jobs. It protects people with no or low savings from astronomical medical and legal bills that could force them into bankruptcy. And it would save low-income drivers substantial money when they buy used cars. Maryland auto dealers support SB0566 because they must jack up used car prices to cover the cost of repairs so that Maryland trade-ins can pass the rigorous safety inspection the state requires only upon sale or transfer.

This “accident” disrupted my life. It stole precious time from my family and my work. It traumatized my sister and my children. Seven months later, I still have pain; I’m still spending on physical therapy; and my orthopedist says I’ll likely need a hip replacement in a few years. At 56, I have gone from being in the best physical fitness of my life to the worst. I am hypervigilant when driving or walking on sidewalks – fearful of cars around me, anxious when I see cyclists or pedestrians being anything but careful. I drive with one hand on the horn.

And I am angry at the state of Maryland for not protecting me. If I were hit by a state-owned vehicle, you would recognize the state’s responsibility for the accident. Even Uber and Lyft require their drivers’ cars to pass an annual safety inspection.

I did not want to bankrupt the woman who hit me or her family. We were both lucky to survive the accident she caused. But I hold the state of Maryland and its elected officials accountable for their negligence and failure to require regular auto safety inspections, as our wise neighboring states already do.

— JULIE DRIZIN

The writer is a resident of Silver Spring and an advocate for traffic safety measures.