Latest Numbers Show Little Change in Texas Uninsured Rate

Three years after Texas launched a verification program aimed at ridding its roadways of uninsured motorists, about 20 percent of cars still have no coverage, according to state officials.

The share of uninsured vehicles is roughly the same as it was when TexasSure was introduced statewide in late 2008 to crack down on Lone Star State residents driving without even basic liability insurance coverage.

Texas registrationsIn some parts of the state—including Dallas County, where an estimated 24.1 percent of motorists have no policy—the numbers are even higher. And state officials have stated that law-abiding Texans pay about $1 billion a year for optional coverage to protect against the uninsured.

State officials say the program has given law enforcement a useful tool with which to verify whether cars are insured and has improved efficiency in the vehicle registration process.

But they say making a serious dent in the number of motorists with no coverage will take time.

“Due to the very large number of vehicles operating in Texas, the program needs more time to see a significant impact,” Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the state Department of Insurance, said in an April email.

TexasSure features a database that can be accessed by law enforcement and county officials in order to verify whether a car is covered. It also has enabled state officials to locate uninsured motorists in the database and notify them that they are out of compliance.

The penalties for those driving without auto insurance in Texas are stiff.

First offenses carry a fine between $175 and $350, and the penalty for a second offense climbs to between $350 and $1,000, as well as suspension of the violator’s driver license.

In addition, motorists who are found guilty must pay a $250 annual surcharge for three years in order to maintain their driving privileges. And owners of impounded vehicles face the added costs of a $133 base impound fee, plus $21.65 per day for storage.

But the number of uninsured motorists remains stubbornly high, despite the TexasSure website’s vow to “put an end to the days of uninsured motorists, drivers dropping coverage after receiving a valid insurance card.”

Hagins said Texas officials looked at other states’ efforts to cut down on the number of uninsured motorists and found that it took “several years” to make an impact. The bulk of progress was made after officials were granted broader enforcement tools, he said, including the ability to issue fines along with mailed notices.

“Texas does not currently have similar enforcement authority,” Hagins said.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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