Newer model cars will face emissions testing annually rather than every other year under an updated inspection program and safety inspections also will become more rigorous.

Drivers with newer model cars will face emissions testing twice as often while the oldest, most polluting vehicles on the road will be exempt under an updated vehicle inspection program set to be unveiled next week.

The change is among several that will take effect Oct. 1 as the state switches to a new equipment vendor, Parsons Technologies.

Yearly safety inspections will also become slightly more rigorous and steps will be taken to crack down on sticker fraud.

New safety regulations include: working air bags and rear- and side-view mirrors “as manufactured.” Plastic sheeting, once acceptable over a shattered window, will become grounds for failure.

Also, a clarification will ensure that cars with unapproved aftermarket headlights will fail.

The number of cars and trucks failing emissions tests climbed to one in 10 in 2006, the latest year with available data. By shortening the time between tests to one year from two, state environmental officials said they hope to more quickly weed out polluting cars and trucks.

But new equipment being installed at inspection stations will be unable to measure emissions on vehicles manufactured before 1996. That year, automakers installed onboard diagnostic systems in all cars, letting inspectors monitor emissions by plugging into a car’s computer.

The new rules are bound to irk some drivers.

“They think you’re picking on them,” said Rick Souza, 42, an inspector at Gulf Gas Station in Pembroke since 1984. “I’ll see a baby seat in their car, and I’m trying to tell them their tie-rod could break. It’s for their own safety.”

Registry of Motor Vehicles figures show 246,471 vehicles failed a safety inspection last year – about one in 20 tested.

Officials at the registry and state Department of Environmental Protection, which jointly oversee the inspection program, said motorists will hardly notice the changes. The price remains $29 per inspection.

Behind the scenes, officials will keep a watchful eye on inspectors at the state’s 1,400 licensed stations.

The new workstations, about $2,500 each, are outfitted with cameras that, beginning next year, will use facial-recognition software to ensure certified inspectors conduct inspections.

Mark LeFrance, the registry’s project manager for inspections, said the security feature is aimed at preventing unlicensed workers from fraudulently issuing stickers.

The scam is among several that state officials have encountered. In 2006, the state suspended or revoked inspection licenses 202 times for stations and 181 times for individual inspectors.

In a pilot program that could expand, the state also plans to install video cameras at a handful of stations as a watchdog measure, said Christine Kirby, deputy director for the environmental department’s transportation program.

Environmental officials said they decided to make emissions testing a yearly requirement – as safety inspections are – to counterbalance the added pollution from soon-to-be exempt vehicles. The registry reported roughly 12 percent of the 4.6 million cars and trucks on the state’s road – about 550,000 – are pre-1996 models. Vehicles of that age are up to four times as likely to spew illegal levels of pollution as a car that is just four years old, state data show.

Inspectors will still be able to fail older cars if they emit blue smoke from the tailpipe.

Vehicle emissions account for roughly 40 percent of pollutants that cause smog, according to the environmental agency.

Registry spokeswoman Ann Dufresne said discussions are under way on a possible crackdown on drivers who neglect to make needed repairs despite failing an inspection. Invalidating a vehicle’s registration and issuing fines are options being explored.

“Everything is on the table in terms of enforcement,” she said.

The program last saw major changes in 2004 after concerns were raised about inaccurate emissions tests. At that time, faulty equipment across the state was replaced.

John P. Kelly may be reached at jkelly@ledger.com.

For more information on vehicles inspections visit:

http://www.vehicletest.state.ma.us/publications.html

http://216.146.86.7/MaReport/

What’s changing

NOW OCTOBER 1 Biennial emissions tests Yearly emissions tests Tailpipe test for 1995 and older models 1995 and older models exempt No airbag testing Airbags and components must work properly No mirror requirements Mirrors must appear “as manufactured,” two side- and one rear-view in most cars Plastic replacement on rear windows is passablemust confirm All glass windows must be intact to pass Inspectors use login and PIN number at workstations Facial recognition software will verify inspector’s identity next year

 What's not

Safety inspection yearly Price: $29

    
Inspections, by the numbers

1,651 - The number of covert audits of inspection stations by the state in 2006. 383 - The number of stations and inspectors to have their inspection license suspended or revoked in 2006. 86 - The percentage of vehicles that passed an emission retest in 2006 after making needed repairs. 1.1 - The percentage of diesel vehicles that failed an emissions test in 2006. $22.50 - How much a station keeps of the $29 inspection fee; $6.50 goes to the state.

Source: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection