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Pennsylvania Proposes Car Insurance Verification Cameras

When you're doing online auto insurance shopping, you always want to keep abreast of new or changing insurance laws in your state.  It is possible the state of Pennsylvania could begin using highway cameras to catch drivers who are operating their vehicles on state roads without car insurance. Anyone who is currently uninsured would be a target of this plan, proposed by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. One of the primary reasons behind the plan is the money Rendell and his supporters say the cameras could generate in citations and registration fees. But opponents including civil liberty groups criticize the idea. Many question whether the cameras would only be used to capture license plates as the plan suggests, or if other private information might end up on film.

Overhead Cameras to Catch Uninsured

Under the proposal put together by Rendell, cameras would be installed along the side of roads or on overhead signs. At first the cameras would be installed in Pennsylvania's big cities; then, if the program was a success, they'd be implemented elsewhere as well. According to Rendell, these cameras would function to snap pictures of license plates, and then that license plate information would be compared against an insurance database to determine whether the vehicle is in fact insured. Although government officials commenting on the proposal feel it is innocuous enough, some civil liberty advocates are incredibly put off by the proposal.

For one thing, they say that this is just another example of the government finding ways to monitor people who are not doing anything wrong. These critics contend that cameras like these would amount to an invasion of privacy. And they also wonder whether the only information gathered would be that license plate image, as well as whether the data they came up with would be shared with other governmental entities over time. For these groups, it is not so much a question of the specific application being talked about as it is fear of other possible applications that are not being talked about at all.

How Camera Verification Would Work

According to proponents of the system, the cameras would only photograph license plates, and not drivers. Any motorist caught driving without valid Pennsylvania car insurance on their vehicle would be fined under this proposal. Pictures of other vehicles photographed would be deleted automatically according to those explaining the proposed system.

On the surface, the camera car insurance verification system would seem to be a part of an effort to get more drivers to insure their vehicles. Certainly this is true on some level, but the primary purpose at least on the short term for the installation of these cameras would be fund raising for the state of Pennsylvania. Rendell shared the idea with members of a state Senate panel that has been given the task of finding ways to raise money for transportation. Rendell's contention is that uninsured drivers put all other motorists at risk, and that this is reason enough to set up the cameras and start the process. Some estimates coming out of the governor's office put the potential windfall for the state as high as $120 million if the cameras were used all across the state.

This is not entirely novel. Several states across the country use varying forms of auto insurance verification systems to battle the uninsured motorist problems in those states. Some of these arm police officers at traffic stops with insurance verification information in real time. Other states like Pennsylvania are also considering similar camera verification systems. It is unclear whether these ideas would hold up legally if they were system challenged on the basis of privacy.

At this time the state is soliciting bids from companies to run the program for them. But according to the governor's office, no such contract could be awarded until the state assembly passed legislation that approved such a measure. Any such legislation would have to include details on the amounts of fines, how long and where the photographic imaged are to be stored, and whether police officers would have the authority to verify local car insurance at routine traffic stops.

Governor's Proposal Hits State House

Leaders in the state House are currently examining the proposal to determine whether it has enough support to warrant introducing it to the full House floor. At this early stage it is unclear whether any such support exists. And officials in the insurance industry warn that trying to keep on top of such a system would be a huge undertaking.

Economically, the successful implementation of this type of insurance verification camera system could prove to be a very good thing for the state, especially if the administration of the cameras and the data was all done by a private company. But there appear to be many big questions left unanswered at this point, likely meaning that the project has a ways to go anyway.


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