Okla. Readies Program to Seize Plates of Uninsured Drivers

Oklahoma insurance officials are gearing up for what they say will be a January kick-off to enforcement efforts against uninsured drivers, backed by a new law that will allow police to seize the license plates of coverage-less motorists.

HB 1792, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in April, also institutes an Oklahoma car insurance plan that temporarily covers those uninsured motorists at minimum state-mandated levels until they obtain coverage of their own; those motorists pay fees to fund the program.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) has been ramping up publicity efforts around the new law and the Oklahoma Temporary Motorist Liability Plan (TMLP) it creates.

The OID reminded motorists again about TMLP as it recently publicized a crackdown on uninsured motorists at a Tulsa safety checkpoint on Sept. 21. According to the OID, anti-fraud and sheriff’s officials cited 17 drivers for driving without coverage; 14 of those drivers had their vehicles towed.

The OID and Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office have collaborated on six such checkpoints since last November, Kelly Collins, spokeswoman for the OID, told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN).

Uninsured drivers yielded 217 citations, making up nearly half the number of total citations issued to motorists at those six checkpoints.

Drivers to Pay Fees, Have 10 Days under Temporary Coverage Plan

Motorists found to be without coverage will have their plates seized and be covered under Oklahoma’s TMLP. The program will be funded by payments from those motorists.

According to HB 1792, daily rates for the TMLP will be announced in December.

The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association (OSA), which was tapped to administer the TMLP, will hold “training sessions” with state authorities beginning next month, according to Ken McNair, OSA’s director.

“I expect law enforcement will begin seizing tags of uninsured drivers on January 1, 2014,” he said.

The driver will have 10 working days under TMLP to obtain coverage on their own before paying a $125 fee to reacquire their license plate.

That fee is in addition to the state’s $250 maximum fine for driving without coverage. Other court and administrative fees may apply.

John Doak, OID’s commissioner, said that the nearing launch of the harsher enforcement program signals the state’s commitment to “turn the tide” against uninsured drivers.

“The goal is to lower the number of uninsured motorists over the long-term while also providing minimum liability insurance in the short-term at no cost to the state,” he said in a statement.

High Rate of Uninsured Drivers Spurs Officials to Action

According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), Oklahoma has one of the highest statewide rates of uninsured motorists in the U.S., with nearly one-fourth of the Sooner State’s licensed motorists on the roads without the proper coverage.

When announcing HB 1792 at a February press conference, Doak said the high number of coverage-less cars on Oklahoma roads—a number he pegged at 560,000—was a “No. 1 issue” for politicians and drivers alike.

According to the OID, $8.8 million in tax revenue is lost annually because of uninsured motorists.

HB 1792 was passed in the state House by a vote of 85-6 in March and the state Senate the following month by a vote of 26-15.

Since HB 1792’s passage, the OID has been notifying drivers throughout the state about the new law with 131 public service announcements on televisions and radio stations, according to Collins.

“We also sent out warning posters to hundreds of insurance agencies across the state,” Collins told OAIN.

The OID is “confident” that the new enforcement program “will make a difference” when it begins next year, according to Doak.

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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