By Constable Bruce Elfant
Last month my vehicle was struck by a driver in a white older model pickup truck who immediately sped off. The responding officer said the most likely reason the other driver fled the scene was that his vehicle was not insured.
Forty-nine states require drivers to have at least some amount of liability coverage for their vehicles. Even New Hampshire requires some form of proof that drivers are able to pay for minimal levels of damage. Texas requires drivers to maintain minimum liability coverage of $25,000 per injured person, $50,000 for everyone injured in an accident and $25,000 for property damage. Next year these limits will increase for the first time in 22 years to 30/60/25. The fine for failure to maintain auto insurance ranges from $175 for the first offense up to $1,000 plus court costs, a possible two year license suspension and even vehicle impoundment.
The Texas Department of Insurance reports that nearly 25% of Texas drivers don’t maintain auto insurance that is required by state law. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety uninsured motorists cost Texas drivers nearly $1 billion each year in insurance premiums. That is on top of $200-$300 per year that the National Insurance Crime Bureau says that motorists pay to cover the costs of insurance fraud.
Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis believes that the increasing number of uninsured motorists is due in part to the fact that insurance premiums are increasing faster than average family incomes. “In Texas, high premiums and sometimes arbitrary guidelines have made it impossible for some Texans to get the coverage they need,” Ellis said. “If we don’t do more to increase access to affordable auto insurance then we will merely be criminalizing poverty.” The Texas Department of Insurance maintains an excellent website (www.tdi.state.tx.us) that enables consumers to find the lowest rates including discounts for safe drivers, understand their rights and file complaints against insurers.
In 2008 the Texas Department of Insurance launched Texas Sure, a new program that enables law enforcement officers to identify vehicles without liability insurance. Texas Sure, a secure database matches the records of registered vehicles to personal auto insurance policy data submitted by all Texas insurance companies. A major challenge to enforcing auto liability insurance laws has been the rapidly increasing number of proof of insurance cards that were not paid up or were fabricated. Prior to Texas Sure, it was not possible for officers, tax assessors, car rental clerks, etc. to know for sure that proof of insurance cards were legitimate. A feasibility study conducted by the Texas Department of Insurance found that the 27 states which currently use a similar vehicle uninsured verification system reported that on average the number of uninsured motorists dropped by 63%.
Since Texas Sure is relatively new, I have found no data to assess its effect. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear from anyone who spots an older model white pick up truck with significant front end damage.