Old Car Insurance Law Catches Some Oklahomans Unaware

June 12, 2006

A law implemented in the early 1990s designed to catch uninsured motorists instead has caused mostly innocent Oklahomans to have their drivers’ licenses suspended – and in many cases, they don’t even know it’s happened.

The state Legislature passed the law in the early 1990s, hoping to reduce Oklahoma’s high rate of uninsured motorists, which officials estimate is as high as 25 to 30 percent. The law requires insurance companies to notify the state Department of Public Safety whenever a customer cancels an insurance policy within 180 days of it being issued.

Then, the department sends a notice stating that the person’s driver’s license will be suspended within 30 days unless proof of insurance is provided.

The goal was to catch people who would purchase insurance to obtain license tags, then drop the insurance until they needed to renew their tags. Instead, the law has entrapped people who cancel their insurance for legitimate reasons – such as selling or wrecking their car or changing insurance providers.

“It was a bad law,” said Lonnie Jarman, the director of financial responsibility for the Department of Public Safety. “We’ve had people taken to jail over this, and they didn’t do anything wrong other than failing to keep us informed of their current address or not responding to notices we sent out.”

Because many people do not notify the department when they move, the first time some learn that their license has been suspended is when they try to renew license tags or when they are pulled over for a traffic offense.

“Even when people receive notices, they sometimes think they don’t have to respond because they know they have insurance,” Jarman said. “They just throw the notice in the trash and that’s a big mistake.”

Jarman called the law “our No. 1 complaint generator, and for good reason.”

Gov. Brad Henry signed a law June 9 that will require the Department of Public Safety to implement an online vehicle insurance verification system by July 1, 2008. Jarman said the new system would allow the department to “zero in” on uninsured motorists and leave the law-abiding ones alone.

Information from: The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com.

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