Kan. Law Raises Concerns about Uninsured Drivers

August 22, 2007

A new Kansas state law that recently went into effect, making it harder for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses after July 1, has raised concerns that it will increase the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers in Kansas.

An estimated 15,000 immigrants could be affected by the new law.

That is the number of current Kansas driver’s license holders who obtained their license without a Social Security number, said John Holroyd, a public service administrator with the Department of Motor Vehicles in Wichita.

While some may be foreign students, the majority are believed to be immigrants who renewed licenses they had gotten before Kansas verified residency.

Kansas Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon said the change could affect 50,000 people in the coming years as their current licenses expire or they seek new licenses.

The number is based on estimates that put the illegal immigrant population in the state at 50,000 to 70,000.

“It’s really a significant number if they suddenly can’t drive,” Wagnon said. “I certainly hope that many of them will have resolved their legal status.”

The Kansas Department of Revenue estimated at least 160,000 Kansas drivers have no insurance.

The nonprofit Insurance Research Council estimated there is a one-in-seven chance that a driver at fault in an injury accident will be uninsured.

The group estimated the number of uninsured motorists nationwide had risen from 12.7 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2004, based on claims filed with 11 companies that handle 58 percent of auto insurance policies.

About 13 percent, or 260,000 drivers, were uninsured in Kansas, the study said.

Bob Tomlinson, the state’s assistance insurance commissioner, said the actual percentage of uninsured motorists is probably lower than the group estimated. He pegged it at 8 to 9 percent, or about 160,000 drivers.

A legislative task force is considering an electronic insurance verification system that would allow police to instantly check whether a driver’s insurance is valid. The move is designed to deter the common practice by drivers of paying for only one month on their policy and keeping the insurance card for the rest of the year.

Kansas is one of several states considering such a system despite concerns about accuracy and timeliness of the data.

Paula Carter was riding her motorcycle when she was hit by an uninsured driver at an intersection. She said her medical bills were well over $50,000. While her insurance policy covered most of her medical bills, she paid between $2,000 and $3,000 out of her own pocket in addition to the $250 deductible on her motorcycle.

The uninsured driver who hit her was carrying a current insurance card on a policy that had expired.

Carter said she is fortunate to be alive.

“But it is just irritating that these people are out there doing this,” she said. “You can buy insurance for 30 days, and then you drive the other 11 months without it.”

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