Texas has a terrible problem with uninsured drivers — about 20% to 25% of all drivers in Texas have no automobile liability coverage. That means the rest of us have to pay extra for Uninsured Motorist coverage to protect ourselves against these drivers. An editorial in the Dallas Morning News detailed this problem:
The look in their eyes is the tip-off after they plow into your car.
The look says, “Sorry, my bad. And, shoot — my insurance expired.”
Many of us have had the rotten luck of meeting these drivers. They’re everywhere in Texas, more than 4 million of them, always wearing that hapless look on their face after they wreck people’s property — or worse — with no way to pay for the damage.
The state has developed a sophisticated net to catch these lawbreakers, but a maddening number continues to slip through. After a 3-year-old program to cut the number of uninsured motorists showed early results, it’s a disappointment that it appears to have stalled out.
Today, better than one in five vehicles in Texas isn’t covered by the legally required, minimum level of liability insurance. Worse, in Dallas County, the percentage is closer to one in four — the highest among the major counties.
The program created a massive database, TexasSure, that street cops and county officials can access to check on a vehicle’s insurance coverage. If there’s no policy, the officer writes a ticket and the county refuses to re-register the vehicle.
Also, TexasSure looks for uninsured drivers in the database and contacts them by mail about being out of compliance.
Problem solved, right? Not really.
First, assume there’s a bedrock of bad actors who will simply risk a fine or jail (in the case of repeat offenses) to duck a basic expense of driving. Then layer on the crummy economy and figure that some normally law-abiding, but newly jobless people felt forced to let their insurance lapse.
Last, consider the workarounds that lawbreakers use — like buying counterfeit inspection or registration stickers instead of buying the real thing, which requires showing proof of insurance.
Lawmakers who created the TexasSure program need to build on its early success in lowering the uninsured percentage by a few points. They should study why some states have uninsured rates that are nearly half of Texas’. What are they doing that we’re not?
The Legislature also needs to replenish the fund that supports counties, like Dallas, that dedicate resources to busting traffickers in counterfeit or illegally obtained inspection stickers. That fund took a hit in the Legislature this year, a short-sighted decision.
On the local level, more cities need to emulate Dallas, Plano and others that authorize police officers to have uninsured cars towed on the spot. That sends an important message.
There’s no quick, neat or easy fix to the problem. It takes a broad approach, especially stepped-up efforts out of Austin, to end this game of Whac-A-Mole with uninsured drivers. Too often it feels like the moles are winning.
Driving Without Insurance
The percentage of vehicles that lacked insurance in July:
Dallas area counties
- Dallas: 24.1%
- Tarrant: 21.4%
- Johnson: 20.3%
- Kaufman: 19.4%
- Ellis: 18.8%
- Rockwall: 17.9%
- Denton: 17%
- Collin: 16%
Other urban Texas counties
- Bexar (San Antonio): 22.9%
- Harris (Houston): 22.7%
- Statewide: 21.6%
- El Paso: 21.5%
- Travis (Austin): 20.9%
SOURCE: Texas Department of Insurance