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Uninsured Drivers Face Tougher Penalties

February 20, 1998
By: Chelsea Chick
MDN Columbia Bureau

Diane Lowry was an insured Missouri car-owner. A young woman pulled out in front of Lowry's car at an intersection in Kansas City. The accident was the other driver's fault...she had no insurance.

Ten years later, Lowry, who runs a home-based business in Kansas City, is still paying higher insurance premiums as a result. Her 500-dollar deductible is now a 250-dollar deductible.

Lowry says, "My insurance company garnished (the other driver's) wages for a short time-- five or six months-- for 20-dollars a month, until she lost her job. Then, she didn't pay. She had no money and even no phone- a real deadbeat."

The state is now looking at legislation to toughen penalities against the uninsured.

The Missouri Insurance Department reports that, over a ten-year period, the number of uninsured motorists has been cut in half.

Still, in 1996, more than a quarter million Missouri cars and light trucks lacked basic liability coverage.

Calvin Call is the executive director of the Missouri Insurance Coalition. He says uninsured rates may be down because of a financial responsibility law enacted ten years ago stiffening penalties.

Even though the number of uninsured motorists seems to be declining, State Representative Larry Thomason feels more legislation is needed.

The Democratic representative from Kennett is co-sponsoring a new bill focusing on the penalties for unprotected drivers.

Thomason says, "The bill is more punitive. Its difference is aimed at judges to begin to take punishments more seriously. There are several new mandated penalties."

The bill would require proof of motor vehicle insurance under certain circumstances. If an individual would not present an insurance identification card when an officer asks for it, that person would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

Judges would issue a minimum fine of 100-dollars for the first offense. There are larger fines for each subsequent offense. The bill also will require those in accidents without money to have their license suspended until they can cover the costs.

Representative Thomason says that while the bill costs the taxpayer virtually nothing, it will save the average insurance premium-payer considerably.

He says, "If it doesn't pass, it is hurting everyone who is paying for their insurance. Those paying for it are paying for those who aren't."

Ray Harris is the owner of Frontier Adjusters, Inc., an insurance claims office in Columbia. He sees problems.

Harris contends, "There are diehards who wouldn't [buy insurance] if you put a gun to their heads. But with stiffer penalties, anything they can do to put teeth into it could improve numbers of people purchasing insurance."

Call agrees that there are reasons why some have not bought insurance already. He suggests that cost, time, and effort are all contributing factors.

Call says, "People without insurance are probably not law-abiding citizens. There is only so much you can do in society to have those people abide."

Kevin Davis is the claims manager at the National Insurance Association. He believes there is a rising number of uninsured motorists on the national level. He also thinks the numbers will continue to rise until states do something to stop people who buy temporary insurance policies when registering their cars.

Instead of focusing on license suspensions and tougher penalties, Davis suggests for Missouri to follow Florida's legislation. Florida insurance companies send a notice to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles when an insurance policy is about to expire.

If the motorist cannot present proof of insurance, the driver must send back the car's license plates. If the motorist doesn't cooperate, a warrant is issued for the license plates -- making it illegal for the car to be driven.

Problems with uninsured drivers in Missouri may decrease if similar legislation is considered.

For whatever reasons uninsured drivers have chosen to remain that way, the fact is that they are posing a risk to everyone else.

When asked if she would ever consider driving while uninsured, Lowry replies quickly, "Absolutely not. The consequences are not worth it."

The goal of the proposed legislation is that others will start to realize this too.