California Legislators Act on Two Insurance Bills

Two bills seeking to regulate auto insurance coverage in California saw recent action from lawmakers, including one that would exempt public safety officers from liability in work-related crashes and transfer that liability to the public agency employing the officer.

AB 1551 would apply to firefighters, police officers and other public peace officers using their personal vehicle for work-related functions and duties, barring insurance companies from raising premiums on those policyholders because of crashes while using their cars for those purposes.

The legislation passed the state Assembly by a 69-3 vote in late May before clearing the Senate Insurance Committee last week. It is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

One of the bill’s main backers, the California Professional Firefighters (CPF), said firefighters are especially strained by an increase of “daily details” in which they use personal cars to, among other duties, attend training exercises and transport relief crews and equipment.

“With more ‘detailing out’ of firefighters comes an increased demand on fire departments to provide transportation and, in certain cases, greater pressure on firefighters to use their privately owned vehicles for such activities,” stated the Senate Insurance Committee’s legislative analysis.

Current law protects authorities from insurance liability when they are involved in on-the-job crashes in agency vehicles authorized by their employer, but those involved in the “few instances” in which they have to use their personal vehicle are exposed to unfair financial risk, according to the bill’s supporters.

However, several local and county agencies have decried the bill as an excessive burden on them. The California Association of Join Power Authorities (CAJPA) said transferring liability to local agencies exposes them to the same financial risk, something that they “cannot afford in these times of economic stress,” according to the analysis.

The Regional Council of Rural Counties (RCRC) has also publicly opposed the bill, saying that the shift of financial responsibility to rural counties would be “troubling.”

“Employees will be required to use scarce public safety vehicles to travel to non-emergency work destinations,” RCRC officials stated in a letter to the Senate committee. “This will add costs to providing work-related vehicles or result in existing vehicles being used for alternative purposes.”

Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona), who authored the bill, called it “simple and straightforward.”

“This measure will help safeguard public safety employees from jeopardizing their personal finances when engaging in on-duty, employer-directed activities,” Torres said in a statement.

AB 1551 last saw action on Thursday with an amendment striking language from the bill that would have set looser crash reporting rules for authorities. In the bill’s original version, officers would not have had to report work-related crashes in their personal vehicle to their insurer.

The bill’s latest version requires the employer and employee to give notice to the insurer about such crashes within 10 days of the incident.

Other Bill Sets Scene for Driverless Cars

SB 1298, which sets conditions for autonomous cars to be used on the state’s roads, has seen a flawless voting record in its journey through the Legislature so far, with a 37-0 March vote in the state Senate and, most recently, unanimous passage from the Assembly Committee on Transportation.

“Clearly, technology in this area is advancing dramatically, and it is logical and desirable that California, home to many of the world’s technology giants, should be in the vanguard of the development of autonomous vehicles,” stated a committee analysis released last week.

However, the bill has highlighted insurance-related questions raised by the prospect of a driverless car.

Automakers fear exposure to liability when such technology fails in their vehicles and leads to crashes, according to the analysis.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley), who authored the bill, cites the state’s tort law as the reason automakers are spared from liability in those situations, but “automakers understandably desire explicit language in the bill to make this clear,” stated the analysis.

A May report from research firm Celent, subtitled “What Happens When There are (Almost) No Accidents,” explored the near future of autonomous vehicles, which the report hypothesized would be mass-produced in 5 to 10 years.

Preferred use of such “robot cars” will happen between 2023 and 2027, according to the report, which added that premiums will dramatically decreasing premium during that time.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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