“Nearly 1 of every 6 motorists in Dallas County is uninsured, making its roadways among the riskiest in Texas.”
That was the opening sentence in a recent article in the Dallas Morning News. That statistic is a little better than the way things were when I started practicing law 42 years ago, but not by much. The solution to the problem of uninsured drivers is elusive, and perhaps nonexistent. One thing that would help would be if it were illegal to sell monthly insurance policies. Too many people buy a month’s worth of insurance when they need to get their car inspected, and then never pay for the second month. Perhaps selling insurance only on an annual basis would cut back on that part of the problem.
Here are excerpts from the newspaper article:
In all, the county has about 290,000 uncovered motorists. And that number is up slightly from a year ago, according to the Department of Insurance.
Despite initial success in a state program to slash the number of uninsured drivers, more than 2.5 million Texans lack coverage — about 14.3 percent of all drivers. Dallas County, at 16 percent, has a greater share than any other urban area.
Still, the uninsured numbers are down significantly from a few years back when more than 1 in 5 drivers didn’t have coverage. Some people give much of the credit to the TexasSure vehicle insurance program launched four years ago.
Funded with an annual $1 fee that all Texans pay when renewing their vehicle registration, the program seeks to boost compliance with the state’s mandatory insurance law.
“When we started the program, there was no firm statistic on the number of uninsured drivers. The best estimate was around 20 percent. But fast-forward to 2013 and the percentage is down to 14 percent,” said Jerry Hagins, an insurance department spokesman.
Besides the TexasSure program, officials also credit several cities for helping reduce the number of uninsured drivers. That includes Dallas, which has an ordinance requiring the towing of uninsured vehicles stopped by police or involved in accidents.
Hagins said the Insurance Department has been sending out 25,000 notices a week to drivers found to have a car registered without an insurance policy on file. Nearly 3.4 million notices have been sent since the fall of 2009.
Drivers are asked to verify coverage by mail, email or telephone. They are warned they face fines and loss of license if they don’t comply with the law.
TexasSure relies on a massive database containing the names of all insured drivers and their insurance companies matched to their license plate numbers and VINs.
When a driver is involved in an accident or stopped for an infraction, a law officer can enter the license plate number or VIN into the TexasSure system to verify coverage.
The data also is available to county tax assessor-collectors. They can use it to confirm whether a driver has insurance before issuing a registration sticker.
The insurance industry, which was skeptical of the program before it began, now is a strong supporter.
“Once all of the state agencies involved put the system in place, it has been instrumental in bringing down the large number of uninsured drivers,” said Mark Hanna of the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry group. “That makes for a safer Texas.”
Insurers say the only way for covered drivers to protect themselves — outside of driving defensively — is to carry uninsured motorist coverage in their policies.
Texas drivers now pay an estimated $1 billion a year to protect themselves from those who have no coverage.