Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is considering a bill that would create a statewide database stocked with policy information that authorities would use to identify and penalize motorists who lack the proper insurance required to drive.

HB 5438 authorizes the creation of the Uninsured Motorist Identification Database (UMID) program. The legislation was proposed in February before passing the entire state Legislature earlier this month and was put on the governor’s desk last week.

According to the latest data from the Insurance Research Council (IRC), Rhode Island has the eighth-highest statewide rate of uninsured motorists in the U.S., at 17.6 percent, which is higher than the nationwide average of nearly 14 percent.

Onlineautoinsurance.com says the UMID would identify coverage lapses and nonexistent by referencing policy information that car insurers would submit monthly to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to the bill, insurers would be required to report each of its policies, including policyholders’ names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and vehicle identification numbers.

The database would then attempt to match that information to the DMV’s vehicle registration information.

Unmatched vehicles showing a lack of coverage for at least three straight months would trigger a notification sent to those car owners, who have 15 days to provide proof of coverage or obtain coverage.

If no proof is offered within that time frame, a second notice would be sent to the vehicle owner followed by another 15-day period. After that period, the DMV revokes the car registration of car owners who fail to provide proof.

There is a $250 fee for a car owner to reinstate their registration, according to the bill, along with fines and penalties that may be incurred because of the lack of insurance.

The state House passed the proposal on June 26, with Senate passage following on July 1. The legislation was passed to Gov. Chafee for final consideration.

If approved, the UMID is set to be operational by July 1, 2014, according to the bill.

Databases in other states provide similar verification of proper insurance coverage. There are also databases operating in Maryland and Texas, the latter of which is called Texas Sure and has been credited with reducing the number of uninsured motorists in the state since the program began in 2008.

But some of the efforts to establish and maintain those databases have had hitches.

In Montana late last year, officials reported that some vehicles returned erroneous “unverified” statuses when referenced in the database.

Efforts to establish the database in Mississippi has seen fits and starts. In 2011, then-Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed a proposal to establish a database over concerns about the system’s funding and management. Another effort in early 2012 stalled in the Legislature.

The current database in Mississippi was set to start this month, but the Associated Press reported that the program’s launch was delayed until next year because of disputes over vendors that would be contracted to service the program.

Nonetheless, the need such databases is obvious. The lawbreakers should not be allowed the privilege of driving while the rest of us pay disproportionately to cover the risk that too many uninsured drivers represent.