Okla. Uninsured Could Face Sticker System, Plate Confiscation

Oklahoma officials recently created a multi-agency coalition to fight what they say has been the growing problem of uninsured drivers as lawmakers pursue legislative plans to help bring down the state’s rate of uninsured motorists that is one of the highest in the country.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) introduced the Coalition Against Uninsured Drivers (CAUD) earlier this month, bringing together a membership that includes the AAA, Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Safety Council and Oklahoma Trucking Association.

OID commissioner John Doak called uninsured drivers “one of the most serious issues our state faces.”

“I’ve been in every county of Oklahoma over the past two years and the No. 1 issue that folks talk to me about is, ‘What are you doing about uninsured motorists in the state of Oklahoma?’” Doak said at a press conference introducing CAUD.

According to an OID report released last month, the state loses $8.8 million in annual tax revenue because of uninsured drivers, funds that could have gone toward pension funds for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

“You take a 10-year snapshot of that, that’s $80 million that could be going to fund other good services,” Doak said.

Doak said the formation of CAUD was part of a wider effort against uninsured motorists that will “mirror the state of Louisiana,” which he said had cut heavily into their uninsured rate in recent years.

There are more than 560,000 cars in Oklahoma that are uninsured, according to the OID.

According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), almost 1 out of every 4 Oklahoma motorists lacks the coverage required to drive, giving the Sooner State the third-highest uninsured rate in the U.S.; it is tied with Tennessee for the spot, according to the IRC’s 2009 rankings, which are the most recent available.

Legislation Would Allow Tag, License Plate Removal

Doak said Louisiana’s reduction in uninsured motorists was largely achieved through “good, innovative” legislation that allowed police to remove the tags of drivers lacking coverage.

Two pieces of Oklahoma legislation—HB 1792 and SB 701—seek to establish similar procedures, but SB 701 stalled in a Senate committee this week.

HB 1792, which is currently in a House committee, proposes a fine increase to a maximum $750 and empowers police who find a driver lacking coverage to remove tags and license plates from the vehicle. The violator’s citation for driving uninsured serves in place of the confiscated tags and plates, which can be reinstated after the violator obtains coverage and pays an additional fee of $125. While they are searching for coverage, which they have to get 10 business days after the citation is issued, offenders will be covered by a state-sponsored minimum liability plan created by HB 1792 that would be funded by the $125-per-offender fee.

Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City), HB 1792’s sponsor, called uninsured driving a “plague on Oklahoma motorists for decades.”

Christian said his proposal will deter a common practice he saw as a former state trooper: uninsured drivers immediately cancel coverage after they’ve purchased it and obtained tags for their vehicles.

Christian also added that many uninsured drivers would “rather gamble and pay a fine than comply with our compulsory insurance laws.”

Oklahoma Officials Promise Higher Uninsured Fine, Consider Electronic Proof

In Oklahoma, fines for driving without insurance amount to a maximum $250. The resulting license suspension will mean a $275 administrative fee for reinstatement, along with towing fees if the vehicle is impounded.

However, the fine itself is “less than the cost of insurance,” OID Commissioner John Doak said in a statement, meaning there is little incentive for those lacking coverage to get it.

“I’m working with the Legislature to try and change that,” Doak said about Oklahoma’s fine for driving without coverage.

At the press conference, Christian said that a fee increase is imminent, though lawmakers are debating the actual amount. He said that he would support hiking the fee to $1,000, though other legislators in his caucus have expressed concern about already written language inflating it to $750.

“We’re still visiting whether we’re going to fall somewhere between $750, $500,” he said. “It’s going to above $250. But yes, we’re going to raise the fee.”

Doak also said that officials are discussing how to allow drivers to electronically prove they have insurance. Legislative updates released this month from a national trade organization listed 21 states as considering plans to allow electronic proof, though Oklahoma was not listed among those states.

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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