With Checkpoints, Okla. Chips Away at Uninsured Problem

Oklahoma officials are stepping up their fight on the state’s uninsured motorist problem with a series of public service announcements and checkpoints aimed at deterring drivers from hitting the road without liability insurance.

Oklahoma police towed 11 vehicles and wrote dozens of citations for driving without auto coverage over the weekend at a checkpoint in Tusla, Okla. The four-hour checkpoint netted a total of 60 citations, with 31 of those related to lack of valid insurance or failure to provide proof of coverage.

John D. Doak, the state’s insurance commissioner, called the checkpoint “very enlightening,” adding that the traffic stops included a woman cited for “driving under suspension” who “couldn’t remember the last time she had auto insurance.”

“It highlights a major problem on Oklahoma roadways,” Doak said in a statement.

In recent years, the Sooner State has grappled with a higher-than-average rate of uninsured drivers. In 2007, Oklahoma had the fourth-highest uninsured rate at 24 percent, meaning almost 1 out of every 4 motorists in the state were on the road without the financial responsibility required to drive.

By 2009, the problem hadn’t seen much improvement, with an insured rate of 23.9 percent in Oklahoma that put the state in a tie with Tennessee with the third-highest rate of drivers lacking coverage. That year, the nationwide average uninsured rate was 13.8 percent.

“The amount of citations issued this weekend was as impressive as it was disturbing,” Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz said in a statement. “The fact that so many motorists are operating on our public roadways without insurance is an alarming trend and a quality-of-life issue.”

Uninsured Penalties, Fines in Oklahoma Include Towing

Maximum fines and fees for driving without coverage in Oklahoma amount to $525—a $250 fine and $275 fee for license reinstatement—which does not include possible towing costs. A maximum penalty can also include a 30-day jail sentence.

Oklahoma is one of at least four states, including Iowa, California and Pennsylvania, where state law allows police to tow uninsured drivers’ vehicles on their first offense of lacking coverage.

The state also has a “no pay, no play” law on the books that bars uninsured drivers from recovering damages for pain and suffering after a crash, even if it wasn’t their fault.

Oklahoma Rep. Steve Martin, R-Nowata, who authored the state’s bill allowing authorities to tow first-time offenders’ cars, said that the checkpoint addressed an “enormous problem for our state.”

“It costs every driver in higher premiums, even those drivers not involved in an accident,” he said.

Oklahoma Tried to Widen Police Power Over Insurance Checks

Martin also authored HB 2525, a piece of legislation seeking to broaden authorities’ power in stopping vehicles they suspected lacked coverage, which ultimately stalled in the state House in May.

The bill would have utilized the state’s insurance database, which stores vehicle data online that police would have used to instantly verify whether a car had a proper policy in place, and allowed authorities to check a vehicle in the database and institute a traffic stop based on that alone.

Currently, Oklahoma authorities are only allowed verify the coverage status of drivers they pull over for another violation or if the driver was involved in a crash.

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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