Lawmakers Advance Bill Punishing Uninsured Drivers in Okla.

A bill restricting uninsured drivers from recovering any type of funds relating to a car crash passed a House committee Tuesday after being approved by the Senate last month and now moves onto the full House for further consideration.

Meanwhile, another proposal to increase the penalties for driving uninsured has advanced to the Senate after being approved by the House.

Bill Would Stop Uninsured Drivers from Receiving Compensation

The uninsured driver bill would strengthen the state’s current “no pay, no play” law.

Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), one of the bill’s sponsors, said that it would address the state’s rate of drivers lacking coverage, which remains “astronomically high.”

Nearly 1 out of every 4 drivers in the state is uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council’s 2009 projections, the latest year for which data was made available, giving the Sooner State one of the highest uninsured rates in the U.S.

Nelson said his bill, SB 691, would rectify “an issue of fairness.” Currently, motorists who drive without the legally required coverage and get into an accident could seek compensation from the responsible driver’s insurance provider, even though they themselves don’t carry such coverage.

Oklahoma’s “no pay, no play” law currently bars uninsured motorist from receiving noneconomic damages for crash-related injuries. Though monetary awards for things like pain and suffering are prohibited for those uninsured drivers under “no pay, no play,” the uninsured driver could still receive compensation for medical bills, property damage and wage losses.

SB 691 would change that, stating that there will be “no recovery for any damages arising from a motor vehicle accident claimed by [an uninsured] plaintiff,” according to a legislative analysis.

The bill passed the House committee by a 10-6 vote, moving it to full chamber. Senators passed the bill by a 31-9 vote last month.

During committee discussions, Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa) said that “there could be potential due process or constitutional issues related to this regardless of the public policy,” referring to the state constitution that requires the injured receive care.

Rep. Aaron Stiles (R-Norman) also questioned the “unintended consequences” of the bill.

Nelson said he had no immediate answer to the proposal’s constitutionality. Public safety, according to Nelson, was at risk with such a high rate of uninsured drivers roaming the roads.

“You’re a menace to society if you’re going to have a wreck,” he said.

Sen. Cliff Aldridge (R-Oklahoma City), another sponsor, revisited the topic of fairness when describing the bill’s intent.

“If you’re going to be uninsured, then be responsible, buy insurance if you want to benefit from the system,” he said. “And if you don’t buy insurance, then don’t drive on the road, otherwise you’re not going to be able to recover from people like me who are doing the responsible thing and abiding by the law and buying insurance.”

Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) questioned what does “someone having insurance on their own car have to do with someone else’s negligence?”

According to Nelson, current law allows uninsured drivers to openly flout requirements to have coverage.

“It seems to be that there should be some penalty for not following the law,” he said.

Virgin replied: “There is a penalty, and that’s called a ticket for driving without insurance.”

Nelson took issue with that penalty’s effectiveness.

“What’s the ticket, 200, 300 bucks?” he said. “You know what my auto insurance is every month?”

Other Bill Proposes Fine Increase, Removal of Tags, Plates

The level of penalties for driving without auto coverage in Oklahoma were a point of discussion as officials unveiled a proposal to hike fees and enforce harsher penalties against the uninsured.

HB 1792 was introduced at a February press conference, where sponsor Rep. Mike Christian, another Oklahoma City Republican, called uninsured drivers “a plague on Oklahoma motorists for decades.”

Christian and insurance commissioner John Doak told the event’s attendees that a major problem with the current enforcement structure is that fines are less than the cost of car coverage.

HB 1792 increases the maximum fine to $750 and allows authorities to remove tags and license plates from violators until they obtain coverage.

The bill passed the House by an 85-6 vote in March and currently sits in the Senate Insurance Committee.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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