As reported in the Dallas Morning News, Texas will finally get serious about enforcing the mandatory auto insurance law, beginning in 2008.
One reason we have had no enforcement to speak of is that insurance companies really don’t want everyone to have auto insurance. In my opinion, they figure that the good drivers and responsible adults already have insurance. So the remaining 4,000,000 or so Texans are the bad drivers, drunks, and other “undesirable” people. Those are the ones most likely to cause car wrecks and thereby cost their insurance companies money. It’s a little like health insurance companies, who would prefer to insure only young, healthy adults. Here are excerpts from the story:
Beginning next month, the state will launch its long-delayed program to nab the estimated one in five Texas motorists who are violating the law by driving without insurance.
The insurance verification program will begin in Austin for two months and, if successful, will be expanded to Dallas and the rest of the state.
The program, funded with a $1 fee paid by Texans when renewing their vehicle registration each year, allows police officers, state troopers, vehicle inspection stations and others to instantly verify whether a motorist has the minimum insurance coverage required under state law. The verification will come through a central database set up with information provided by insurers.
About 20 to 25 percent of drivers – as many as 4 million Texans – are uninsured, according to state officials and the insurance industry. The state has roughly 16 million drivers.
Although Texas has had a financial responsibility law requiring drivers to buy insurance for several years, enforcement has been difficult even though proof of insurance must be furnished to get a license renewal or safety inspection. The minimum policy must contain liability coverage to pay for injuries and damage caused by the driver.
Millions of motorists skirt the law by using counterfeit proof-of-insurance cards or by obtaining a month’s coverage of insurance to get an ID card, only to cancel the policy once they get their licenses renewed or their vehicles inspected.
To combat the problem locally, a growing number of cities, including several in North Texas, have started local programs to penalize uninsured drivers by towing their cars. Among those cities are Arlington, Dallas, DeSoto, Garland, Irving and Mesquite.
Under the state program, a driver pulled over for a traffic violation or involved in an accident will still be asked to produce proof of insurance. But the officer will also run the license plate of the vehicle through the insurance database to determine whether the driver really has insurance.
A ticket will be issued to violators, subjecting them to a fine of $175 to $350 on the first offense. The fines jump on the second and third offenses – $350 to $1,000 – and the third offense can result in suspension of the driver’s license and impoundment of the vehicle. Those who ignore the fines are subject to arrest.
Drivers caught without insurance also are put in the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, requiring them to pay an additional $250 a year to the state for three years.
Although the insurance checks will initially occur at traffic stops, they will be quickly expanded to annual vehicle registrations and, by next summer, to vehicle inspections. Some county tax collectors, who issue vehicle registration stickers, could be using the system as early as February.
In addition, the state will contact drivers without insurance by mail, warning them of the consequences for not having insurance.
Although the insurance verification law was passed in 2005, the program has been delayed as state officials and the insurance industry sought to make sure that mistakes would be minimal.
INSURANCE VERIFICATION: HOW IT WORKS
Uninsured drivers will be identified through a state database that will include information from insurance companies on all drivers who have policies on their vehicles. Drivers will be checked when they:
- Are stopped for a traffic violation by a law enforcement officer, who can run their license plate number though the database.
- Are involved in an accident.
- Obtain an annual vehicle inspection.
- Submit payment for a new vehicle registration sticker.
Also, the state plans to mail out warnings to drivers who are found to have no minimum liability insurance. Current minimum coverage limits are:
- $25,000 for injury or death of one person in an accident.
- $50,000 for injury or death of two or more persons.
- $25,000 for damage or destruction of property.