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Bills could mean trouble for uninsured drivers

February 20, 1998
By: Aaron Springer
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Uninsured drivers beware. Three bills in the Missouri Legislature would allow the state to take away your driver's license and revoke your car registration.

Several senators and representatives have sponsored legislation to increase the penalties against the drivers who don't have liability coverage.

Chairman of the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations committee, Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett, said he believes the strengthening state statutes can help to lower the number of uninsured drivers.

"When you have 11 percent of the people in this state not carrying it, that pretty much tells you people don't respect the law," Thomason said.

For a number of years state law has mandated that every car or truck registered in the state must have insurance. In January another law took affect requiring proof of insurance (or proof of financial ability to pay for an accident) for people registering their cars. The two-month old statute also made not having liability coverage a misdemeanor.

Calvin Call, the executive director of the Missouri Insurance Coalition, said the state should wait to see how well the new registration requirement works before the state adds more rules.

"I wonder when and where there is a limit," Call said. "You can only do so much."

The sponsor of one bill, Rep. Don Kissell, D-St. Peters, said he believed the state can stop penalizing uninsured drivers when they start following the law. He said he was skeptical that screening at registration would help because the law doesn't require the insurance to last the length of the registration.

An underwriter for one insurance company who asked that his name not be used confirmed that a person could effectively get around the law by purchasing a policy, taking it to the Motor Vehicles agency and then canceling it.

The underwriter said his company offers a three-month policy which people could use to get their car registered. Afterwards the owner could cancel the coverage and collect a refund on the unused portion of the premium.

Legislators have made several attempts to create legislation that would require insurance companies to notify the Missouri Revenue Department when a driver's auto insurance ran out. All of these bills died before they reached the governor.

Kissell's bill doesn't account for the registration loophole, but it does add new penalties for drivers. The legislation allows law enforcement agencies to revoke the license, suspend the registration and seize the license plates of uninsured drivers who injure other drivers or cause more than $500 in property damage. In cases of lesser damage, police or state troopers can seize the plates. These penalties can be assessed within 90 days of the accident.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Merril Townley, R-Chamois, could have immediate consequences. His bill would allow a member of the Highway Patrol to take away a driver's license if he or she couldn't produce proof of insurance.

Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, said consistent enforcement would be more effective than simply increasing penalties. The higher fines would hurt drivers who don't have enough money to purchase insurance, Rohrbach said.

"If we make it any more expensive, people may not be able to get the insurance," Rohrbach said.

Heightened penalties have support in the Motor Vehicle Committee, Thomason said. The committee must consider both of bills, along with a third co-sponsored by Thomason.

Thomason's bill sets a minimum fine of $100 for drivers without insurance. The bill also allows law enforcement officers to suspend the license of uninsured drivers involved in accidents.