“Can you go ahead and give me your license, registration and insurance card, please?” That question never signals happy times. Almost always it’s asked for a driver pulled over for a traffic infraction or involved in a crash. The law enforcement officer can quickly verify your license and registration status via a real-time statewide database, but not your current insurance status. That could soon change if proponents get their way in this spring’s legislative session.
A bill introduced by Rep. Matt Willhite, a Democrat from Wellington, would require the state to establish an online verification system by July 1, 2022. Once operational, insurance companies would be required to upload weekly status reports for all of their customers, and police would be required to query the insurance status of drivers involved in traffic stops or crash investigations. Drivers would still be required to carry proof of insurance. In an interview Monday, Willhite said 13 other states have adopted a standardized database that Florida could join.
Verifying insurance could help reduce Florida’s 26.7% uninsured motorist rate. It’s the worst in the nation, according to an October 2017 report by the Insurance Research Council, an industry-funded not-for-profit research organization.
Under the current system, it’s too easy for motorists to sign up for a six-month policy term, stop making payments after the first month, keep their “current” insurance card and continue driving, Willhite said. Obligations of the scofflaws are assumed by everyone else who are forced to pay inflated premiums. In 2015-2016, motorists in just four states and the District of Columbia paid more in average premiums than the $1,339 paid by Florida drivers, according to a report released last month by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “It’s not fair for people who are paying their fair share,” Willhite said.
Under Florida’s No-Fault Law, vehicle owners are required to carry at least $10,000 in coverage for property damage liability and $10,000 for personal injury protection. The coverage includes bodily injury coverage of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident. Coverage is required before vehicle owners can obtain registration and plates and must be maintained throughout the registration period.
Failure to maintain insurance is supposed to result in license suspension for up to three years and a reinstatement fee of $150-$500. And while Florida law requires insurers to notify the state when customers allow their insurance to lapse, that process doesn’t seem to work quickly enough, Willhite said.
Several states have implemented online verification systems with various enforcement mechanisms. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, law enforcement officers have the option of impounding vehicles when owners are caught driving without insurance. Oklahoma’s law also gives police an option to replace the vehicle’s license tag with a special temporary tag insuring the car and owner for 10 days to give the owner time to buy insurance.
The Insurance Research Council’s October 2017 report said Oklahoma’s uninsured motorist rate fell from 24% in 2006 to 10.5% in 2015 – “likely” as a result of the state’s tougher approach. Willhite’s bill does not propose giving police authority to impound vehicles or increase penalties for being caught driving without insurance.
The absence of enforcement provisions in the bill leaves some questions unanswered: Once police find that a motorist is uninsured, should the motorist be allowed to get back in a car and drive away? That and other questions will have to be considered as the bill advances through the process, Willhite said. “There does need to be some teeth, some enforcement,” he said.
Three bills similar to Willhite’s were introduced in 2017 and 2018 but failed to advance to a vote by either chamber’s full membership. Representatives of two insurance industry trade groups – the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (formerly Property Casualty Insurance Association of America) – said their organizations support the bill.
“We like this idea, and think it would help to reduce the number of uninsured motorists in Florida,” said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida.
This year’s legislative session is scheduled to run March 5- May 3.
What do you think of this bill?
Article By: Ron Hurtibise