Many states struggle with a problem they don't like to discuss: uninsured motorists. But there's no escaping the costs. Some states like Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New Mexico barely do a thing to persuade motorists to comply with state mandates for auto insurance, and consequently, hundreds of thousands drive with zero insurance and no concern or fear of any consequences.
They let the law-abiding citizens absorb the bloated expense and indifferent lawmakers are OK with that. Other states are far more responsible to their resident taxpayers.
Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) recently reported to legislators that about 321,000 drivers owe the BMV a total of around $130 million in insurance-related fees accumulated since 1993. The fees are charged to drivers when they are cited for driving without coverage. And now, they say they're considering tougher penalties --including jail time and imposition of liens on those who've ignored their obligations.
In Indiana, uninsured drivers cited for the first time receive a $150 penalty. Two-time violators are penalized $225, while three-time violators are penalized $300. The BMV also requires a $10 reinstatement fee to lift license suspensions imposed on drivers who fail to pay those fees, according to Elizabeth Murphy, the BMV’s general counsel.
The state has an Interim Study Committee on Insurance whose members are discussing harsher enforcement methods to help bring down the state’s 16.3 percent uninsured motorist rate.
Murphy also laid out the amount of those unpaid fees in recent years:
?$9.6 million in 2010
?“Just under” $11 million in 2011
?$13.3 million in 2012
?$11.4 million so far in 2013.
The average amount owed per driver is $407, according to the BMV.
“What we’ve seen is those individuals who don’t pay—either they can’t pay or they don’t want to pay—they can’t get a court to waive those fees, or they tend to just drive and drive while suspended,” said Murphy.
Sen. Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis) said the notify-and-suspend system didn’t seem like enough to get those fees paid.
“The dilemma is as long as they stay out of [the BMV office], they don’t pay the fine,” he said to Onlineautoinsurancenews.com.
The committee said it is considering confiscating license plates of repeat offenders and that such an approach has proven effective in Oklahoma.
In addition to liens on properties of violators, Steve Duff, from the Independent Insurance Agents of Indiana, told committee members that his organization would support proposals for “enhanced penalties,” including jail time for repeat violators and point-related charges to a motorist’s driver’s license.
Is that the best fix for the Hoosier State?