Senate committee discusses Oklahoma uninsured motorists
By Christie Southern, eCapitol
Oklahoma’s prevalence of uninsured motorists was the subject of much discussion Wednesday during an all-day interim study at the State Capitol.
With nearly 25 percent of the state’s population driving uninsured, Oklahoma fluctuates between being the most uninsured state to being in the top four, said Sen. Corey Brooks, who requested the study (S15-037).
“Literally, 1-in-4 people you pass on the road will not have insurance,” Brooks, R-Washington said. “This is an issue we have not had the capacity to get our hands on.”
This is the second year Brooks has held a study on the matter. Last year, the study resulted in legislation requiring law enforcement to remove the tags and license plates of vehicles whose driver did not hold insurance.
Brooks said a part of the study would be to evaluate the effectiveness of the law and others like it.
Insurance Commissioner John Doak, who guided part of the discussion, said a driver’s lack of insurance has dramatic and financially devastating consequences and Oklahoma must find a workable solution.
Doak said failing to have insurance should be insurance fraud because it costs the state an average of $62 million a year, based on 2012 numbers. It also costs the state around $8.8 million in tax premiums, according to data from Farmers insurance.
“[Other states] are obviously doing something we are not, maybe they have a greater emphasis on law enforcement that we don’t have,” he said.
One of the issues, he said, is the affordability of minimum liability coverage. Oklahoma has one of the highest rates for low- and middle-income residents, according to information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
This is due in part to the large number of rural area residents of the state and Oklahoma’s poverty rate, said Chris Meredith, with Farmers insurance.
But most of the discussions focused on law enforcement’s inability to verify insurance information in real-time.
Capt. Randy Rogers, legislative liaison for the Department of Public Safety, said real-time verification is slow going and is often inaccurate which can result in erroneous citations on the road.
One solution offered, was to bring back the SR22 form, a form that allows for additional insurance verification for those who have been involved in an accident without insurance, but Rogers said the form is obsolete.
The SR22 form required individuals who had been involved in an accident and did not have insurance to provide proof of insurance and maintain it for three years. The form was repealed from state statute in the early 90s and replaced with today’s insurance verification system, which requires no time frame for which the individual is required to maintain insurance coverage.
Rogers said that while technology has replaced the need for the form, improvements to the system are needed in order for it to be more effective.
“I would not base my decision on whether an insurance policy is confirmed or unconfirmed based on the information in the system,” Rogers said.
Asked if bringing back the form would be helpful, Rogers asked lawmakers not to get “hung up” on the form itself.
“We basically already do this …we don’t need to go back into this if we feel like we need to have some type of link associated with someone having proof of insurance,” he said. The form was repealed as a cost-saving measure back then. Bringing it back would require DPS to bring back that division in order to process those forms. Though some pointed out this would also give law enforcement the ability to revoke someone’s driving privileges without a court order.
Still, Rogers expressed hesitation.
“I don’t think we are comfortable doing anything that would take driving privileges away that didn’t come as a directive from the courts,” he said.
When discussions turned to making a lack of insurance a primary stop offense, Rogers said “I think our system would have to drastically improve, great strides would have to be made to use that [system as a means for a primary offense stop].”
The committee heard from law enforcement who explained their issues with verification and the danger removing tags presents sometimes, per Brooks’ new law.
Bart Blackstock, vice president of Insure-Rite, also presented on best practices in other states when it comes to insurance verification systems.