It seems that for the entire 40 years I’ve been practicing law the uninsured driver rate in Texas has been in the 2o% to 25% range. The government has tried various measures to reduce this percentage, but to no avail. The latest data, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, show no significant change. Here are excerpts from the newspaper article:
More than one in five Texas motorists lack the insurance that state law requires and the ratio is virtually unchanged from a year ago, a blow to the state’s 3-year-old program to sharply reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road.
In addition, Dallas County continues to have the largest percentage of uninsured drivers among the state’s six largest counties, with 24.1 percent of cars and trucks lacking insurance coverage. That figure is down slightly from a year ago, state figures show.
Although the TexasSure vehicle insurance verification program showed good results the first two years after it began in 2008, reducing the number of uninsured vehicles from 24.3 percent to 21.6 percent in 2010, new statistics compiled in July show that progress has stagnated.
That means about 4.2 million drivers have no insurance, and law-abiding motorists shell out nearly $1 billion a year to protect themselves from damage done by drivers without insurance, state officials say.
Insurance industry groups say the economy and a decline in publicity for the TexasSure program are factors in the decline. Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, said officials are unsure why the momentum of the first two years has stalled.
The department is sending letters to thousands of drivers found to be uninsured. The letters remind them of the mandatory insurance requirement and ask them to verify their coverage by mail, email or telephone.
Texas’ financial responsibility law, in place for several years, requires drivers to buy insurance that contains at least liability coverage to pay for injuries and damages caused by the driver.
The insurance department hasn’t analyzed why Dallas has such a high percentage of uninsured drivers. Industry representatives said they had no explanation for the trend, either.
TexasSure relies on a massive database containing the names of all insured drivers and their insurance companies — matched to their license plates and vehicle identification numbers. Insurers provide the information.
When a driver is involved in an accident or stopped for an infraction, an officer can enter the license plate number or VIN into the TexasSure system to verify insurance coverage. In addition, the data is available to county tax assessor-collectors to confirm whether a driver has insurance before issuing or renewing a registration sticker.
Those who lack insurance are ticketed, subject to a fine of up $350 on the first offense and up to $1,000 and possible suspension of their license on the second offense. Those who rack up multiple offenses and take no action are subject to arrest.
Some states fine drivers who are found to lack insurance. But in Texas, fines kick in only after a driver is stopped by a law enforcement officer.
“[States] that made the fastest progress in getting their uninsured numbers down had a fine associated with the notification program,” said Hagins of the insurance department, but Texas’ law does not allow for fines.
Considering that a vendor for the state agency is sending out 25,000 letters a week to drivers who are found to have a car registered but no insurance policy, the impact of a fine could be significant, not only in pressuring those drivers to obtain insurance but also producing significant revenue for the effort.
Hagins said an estimated 1.9 million Texas drivers are in the pool of those receiving notification letters. Those who don’t respond are warned that they are subject to fines and can lose their driver’s license if they don’t comply with the law. But those fines can be assessed only if the driver is stopped for another violation.