New law simplifies insurance verification
by Rachael Griffin
rgriffin@annistonstar.com
Jan 03, 2013 | 5387 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Police have a new tool to determine whether drivers they’ve pulled over have paid for mandatory auto liability insurance.

The Alabama Online Insurance Verification System, which officers started using Jan. 1, was created to discourage people from driving without insurance. According to the Alabama Department of Revenue, 22 percent of drivers in Alabama do not carry mandatory liability insurance. Those records also show Alabama is the sixth-highest rate of uninsured drivers among the states.

Alabama drivers have been required to carry liability insurance policies since June 2000. The new database — which went into effect at the start of 2013 to help enforce the 2000 statute — was established through a law approved by the Legislature in 2011. The law also requires officials who issue license plates to verify insurance through the online system before providing vehicle registration.

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge estimated nearly 10 percent of the people his officers pull over either don’t have insurance or are unable to show proof of it.

Partridge said he hopes the database will help curb the forgery of insurance cards, and the practice of buying a policy and canceling it shortly after the purchase.

“I believe it’s going to work really well once everyone gets used to it,” Partridge said. “Hopefully it will solve those issues.”

Partridge said officers can now verify whether drivers have current insurance policies by running the motorists’ license plates through the database. Most officers will be able to access the program by using the computers they keep in their patrol cars.

Anniston police Sgt. Josh Doggrell said that before the database, officers had to rely on calling insurance companies during normal business hours when a driver’s policy was in question.

Doggrell said it’s a violation for anyone to drive without proof of insurance, and it’s especially pertinent to have proof in the event of a traffic stop or accident.

“If there’s an accident (police) always check insurance, if (the driver) claims they have it but don’t have proof with them we cite them for it,” Doggrell said.

Doggrell said he’s seen cases in which a driver acquires a policy that lasts for six months and the card that comes with it, pays for the first month and then never pays again. Before the database, that kind of trickery could be easily overlooked. If the insurance card was up to date, an officer had no way of knowing if the policy was still being paid for without calling the insurance company.

Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson said he estimates his officers cite 10 to 15 uninsured drivers each month. He said officers have caught people selling fake insurance cards for $10.

“They make them look professional and there’s always a toll-free number on them that never worked,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he thinks the database will help officers and cut down on fake cards.

“It’s something that’s been long needed,” Thompson said.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said a common complaint he hears from drivers is that they’ve bought their insurance, while other people have not. Amerson said it can be frustrating for people, especially after an accident, to deal with someone without insurance.

“Besides the fact of the inconvenience you have of getting your car fixed, if the other person doesn’t have insurance it raises your rates,” Amerson said.

It’s been a practice of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office for more than five years to tow the cars of uninsured drivers. Amerson said this is done so people without insurance can’t simply pay a fine and keep driving.

Randy Cosper, an Alfa Insurance agent, said he thinks the new law and database will result in more tickets being written.

Cosper said the database won’t require any extra paperwork or reporting for local insurance companies.

The Alabama Department of Revenue lists the penalty for violating the mandatory liability insurance law as a $500 fine for first-time offenders. A second offense brings a $1,000 fine and the possible suspension of the driver’s license for six months. If a vehicle is registered or driven without insurance, the vehicle registration will be suspended and the owner subjected to a $200 reinstatement fee for a first-time offender. Second- time offenders face a $400 reinstatement fee and a four-month registration suspension.

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.

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