All it takes is one bug to shut down inspection system

April 20, 2021 | G. Michael Dobbs

Ah, the good old days – remember car inspection back in the day? Before the emissions check, computers and other high-tech additions.

If you’re under the age of 50 you probably don’t.

We all knew of a garage that would kind of, sort of look the other way when it came to car inspections. There was a place in Ludlow our family used to go that checked for the horn, lights and no holes in the exhaust system. They sold tires and if you had an iffy one, they had you, though.

I worked with a guy who used to simply put a piece of colored plastic over the inspection sticker to match the color of the sticker. His beat-up old truck still worked, although he admitted it wouldn’t pass inspection, even back then. He was not inclined to either fix it or get rid of it and the color deception worked.

And then there were the state police who would make sure your inspection sticker was up to date. I remember them sitting in their cars at key intersections after the deadline. Heaven help you if it wasn’t.

The inspections back then were twice a year.

All of these memories came back with the latest crisis: the failure of the out-of-state company that has put our inspections on hold.

Here is what Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service wrote: “Gov. Charlie Baker does not view the weeks-long pause in motor vehicle inspections as a ‘public safety issue,’ and he still expects the system will relaunch by this weekend, the governor said on April 14.

“The digital platform Massachusetts and seven other states use to conduct routine vehicle inspections has been down since Wisconsin-based vendor Applus Technologies was targeted in a malware attack on March 30. Drivers who are due for annual inspections or those who recently purchased new vehicles have had to wait – and in some cases may now wait two months past expiration – to get the annual confirmation that their vehicles are viable to operate on Bay State roads and meet emissions standards.

“Baker, who said earlier this week that he ‘fully expects’ Applus to compensate dealers and service stations who have been financially impacted by the shutdown, said April 14 that he does not yet see major safety impacts from the outage. ‘If this thing was dragging on for a really long time, I’d start to worry about that, but if it’s a two-or-three-week issue, it’s a tremendous inconvenience, but I don’t think of it as a public safety issue,’ Baker said at a vaccine press conference at the Hynes Convention Center.

“Law enforcement officials previously told the administration that motorists will not receive tickets for driving with a March inspection sticker that has now expired.

“On [April 13], the Registry of Motor Vehicles announced that motorists with existing stickers expiring in March or April will be granted until May 31 to get a new inspection. Those who purchased new vehicles registered on or after March 23 will have until April 30 to get an inspection, which typically must happen within seven days of registration. Drivers who had a recent inspection rejected and fall into a 60-day window to retest for free will gain one additional day for each day that the Applus system remains unavailable. Citing information from Applus, the RMV said it expects the inspections systems to resume operating in Massachusetts by Saturday, April 17.”

Well you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? Every inspection station in the commonwealth will be mobbed once the system comes back on line. Perhaps this is the time for the state to consider a back-up system to prevent what we know will happen again. The peril of the digital age is these kind of issues.

What other digital-based vendors do we employ as a state? Perhaps it would behoove us to see if these other vendors are vulnerable as well. Life is far more complex than it was when all we had to worry about was whether or not our indicators were working and the horn was loud enough.

Not my grandkids

I am indeed a grandfather and I received not one, but three phone calls last week from someone who greeted me “Hello, grandfather.”

Immediately I knew this was a scam as none of them would call me – it’s text or nothing – and none of them call me “grandfather.”

When I became fed up after the third call, I told my would-be grandson with an odd accent that the next time he called me I’m alerting the police. He then called me a name that would kick him off the Christmas and birthday present list, which was then followed by a command I cannot repeat in a family newspaper.    Apparently the callers contend they are your kin and then ask for monetary help. So if you get such a call, hang up, then call your real grandkids and say hello.

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