From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Senate committee wants more drivers insured.

In Kim Hendren, Transportation on 9 February 2009 at 5:48 pm

Though the most prominent topic in the Senate Transportation Committee this session has been the restriction of drivers’ cell-phone use — today there was a compromise on a bill affecting young motorists, in fact — the committee may soon produce legislation to encourage more car owners to purchase liability insurance. Though no action was taken in this morning’s meeting, discussion signaled that committee members will explore how to increase the rate of insured drivers in the state.

The working document is SB125, sponsored by Sen. Kim Hendren. The bill would establish an insurance database at the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). Officials would check the database  on a monthly basis; any car owner discovered to be uninsured for a period at least three months would be subject to a $50 fine and a loss of car registration.

However, legislation the committee eventually recommends will likely have substantial differences from Hendren’s bill. Several members of the committee said they want to put more teeth into the measure.

“Maybe their drivers license should be suspended” if they don’t have insurance, said Sen. Bobby Glover, a committee member.

Current law requires drivers to be insured in order to register a vehicle, but proof of insurance is rarely checked until registration is renewed. Chuck Lange, executive director of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association, said law enforcement generally does not run random tag checks for proof of insurance.

Mike Munns, Assistant Commissioner of Revenue at DFA, said the rate of uninsured drivers in Arkansas has steadily declined since the late 1980s, when a quarter of motorists were uninsured. The uninsured rate is currently between 12 and 15 percent. A recent study by the Insurance Research Council found 15 percent, but Munns said DFA’s data found 12-13.

(Read on for other stats on uninsured drivers.)

Munns also speculated that New York State has a a low rate of uninsured drivers — five percent — because more people take public transportation there. However, New York has over 10 million registered vehicles, whereas Arkansas has 3.4 million. A better explanation for New York’s lower rate may lie with its tougher penalties, including drivers license suspension after a car is uninsured for 90 days.

Citing economic concerns for poor families,  Sen. Larry Teague was the only member of the committee who expressed skepticism of increased car insurance oversight. “There are some people who don’t have any money,” he said. “I want them to feed their kids.”

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