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Texas Battles Uninsured Motorist Problem

The state of Texas has long had a serious problem with uninsured motorists. In recent years, the rate of uninsured vehicles on the roads in the state of Texas has been estimated at anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, but experts admit even those numbers may be low due to the fact that many drivers do not even register their vehicles at all, which makes them impossible to count and include in the overall number. The Texas government has worked for much of the past decade to develop a system to battle the uninsured motorist problem in the state, utilizing a database system that keeps track of registration and compares it to rolls of insured motorists.

Non-Compliance Notices Mailed

The state of Texas is beginning a program this year in which compliance to auto insurance laws will be much more strictly enforced. As part of the TexasSure Uninsured Motorists Verification program voted into law by the Texas legislature and already underway in the state, non-compliance notices will be mailed to residents as early as this spring. They will be sent to uninsured motorists as a means of giving them warning advising them of possible consequences of failing to comply with state auto registration and insurance requirements.

The law passed by the Texas legislature also requires all auto insurers working in the state to submit their active policy holder information to the state. The state, using the TexasSure Uninsured Motorist Verification system, then matches vehicle identification numbers provided by the insurance companies with VIN numbers in the state auto registration database. The notices will be mailed by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) [1]. TDI estimates that the uninsured motorist rate in the state of Texas is at least 25 percent, which would make it one of the highest rates in the country.

The mailed warning notices will not merely be a scare tactic to try to get uninsured motorists on the insurance rolls. As a follow up to the notices, vehicles will have a nine week period of time to get insured. If they fail to do so, notices of non-compliance will be sent out and the punitive portion of the program will be set into motion.

TexasSure Long-Planned Enforcement Program

The mailed notices are just one part of the overall compliance system set into law by the Texas legislature. The system was in the planning and debate stages for years before its implementation in 2008. It was partially modeled after highly successful database systems in use in other states with previously high uninsured motorist rates.

As far back as 2003, the Texas Department of Public Safety and other divisions of state government were interested in creating this kind of database system to help enforce state auto registration and insurance law. The hope was that the punitive measures, such as canceling the registration and suspending the licenses of non-compliant drivers, would encourage uninsured motorists to get insured. One of the secondary goals was an increase in state revenue as a result of the expected increase in auto registrations, which would in turn help to continue to fund the project.

Texas state law does require auto liability insurance. As a part of the state's auto insurance law, proof of auto insurance is required during registration and vehicle inspections. State law also allows for Texas Department of Safety (TDPS) officials to ask for proof of vehicle insurance from individuals applying for a drivers license or getting their license renewed. But loopholes in the ways these laws have been administered have allowed drivers to get around the requirements. For example, drivers can get insurance policies just to have a proof to show during registration, then cancel the policy as soon as they have the registration in hand. And drivers who renew their license online did not have to show any proof of insurance to do so [2].

Many vehicles in Texas are driven with either expired license plates or none at all. The uninsured motorist problem in Texas costs money not only to the state government in the form of lost revenue, but also to insured motorists who have to pay much higher premiums for uninsured motorist protection. Court costs from litigation stemming from accidents involving uninsured drivers have also put a strain on the state, not to mention the fact that these cases tend to tie up the dockets of courts and limit their availability for other cases.

Precedent Demonstrates Database Could Work

In the years prior to the implementation of the TexasSure Uninsured Motorists Verification system, much attention was paid to research and study of other states who had similar uninsured motorist issues and devised similar schemes to help them resolve the issues. They found that precedent showed this type of database system to be very effective and successful in getting the uninsured motorist rate down and compliance up.

In the state of Nevada, for example, the uninsured motorist problem was at one time much worse than it currently is even in Texas. In the 1970s, estimates on the rate of uninsured motorists in the state of Nevada were around 40 to 50 percent, a staggering figure. The Nevada legislature passed a law in 1993 which mandated the creation of a database comparing registered vehicles to auto insurance coverage rolls in the state. A 1996 study conducted by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicated incredible success in the system improving insured motorist rates. As of that year the insured motorist rate was reported at 94.6 percent in the state of Nevada.

As part of the Nevada law, in-state auto insurance providers are required to furnish the state with monthly reports on auto policies added, amended, or terminated. State officials then apply the updated information to the database to keep their information accurate and to determine which motorists need to be contacted regarding non-compliance with state auto insurance law. The database accompanies punitive consequences for non-compliance, and gives the state an easy way to keep track of who ought to be punished. It also includes a reinstatement penalty for those who have gone without auto coverage and need to get covered once again to comply with state law [2]. Other states have also implemented similar systems with success.

The state of Texas has long battled severe issues with uninsured Texas motorists driving on state roads. State agencies have tried different tactics to counteract the problem, but have generally found that most tactics relied on catching drivers in the act out on the roads. It placed the burden of enforcement largely on police officers. While the new TexasSure system does not eliminate the obligation of law enforcement officials to keep an eye out for uninsured motorists, it lessens their burden to enforce the state's auto insurance and registration laws.

With some of the highest uninsured motorist rates in all the country, the state of Texas clearly has a challenging situation to address. Recent history in other states has indicated that databases designed to cross-reference registration records with insurance rolls tend to significantly reduce the numbers of uninsured drivers on the roads. Whether the same occurs in Texas is uncertain.

[1] http://www.turborater.com/blog/texas_uninsured_motorists_to_receive_non-compliance_notice.aspx Retrieved 2010-01-21.
[2] http://window.state.tx.us/etexas2003/gg24.html Retrieved 2010-01-21.

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