Texas Delays System to Crackdown on Uninsured Drivers

June 20, 2007

Texas officials have again delayed the launch of a database meant to crack down on uninsured drivers, saying people could be ticketed or arrested because of inaccurate information.

Lawmakers in 2005 ordered the Texas Department of Insurance and three other state agencies to create the database and implement it by December 2006.

State officials first postponed the launch because they were not satisfied with the bids they’d received from companies wanting to run the program.

The state awarded a two-year, $7 million contract to an Alabama firm in November to get the program running. But they said the database still won’t be ready until early 2008.

“We want the accuracy of the program to be as high as we can get it and don’t want to start using it until we are confident we are at that point,” insurance department spokesman Jerry Hagins said.

About 20 to 25 percent of Texas’ 16 million drivers are uninsured, according to state officials and the insurance industry. The insurance industry estimates that Texas drivers pay about $900 million a year to protect themselves against uninsured drivers.

Although state law has required drivers to buy basic insurance for years, it has been difficult to enforce the requirement. Proof of insurance must be provided to obtain and renew a drivers license, register a vehicle or have a vehicle inspected. But millions of drivers skirt the law by using counterfeit proof-of-insurance cards or canceling insurance coverage after they get their licenses renewed or their vehicles inspected.

The program, funded with a $1 fee paid by all Texans when renewing their registration, would allow police officers and state troopers to instantly verify whether a motorist has the minimum insurance coverage that state law requires.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, who sponsored the legislation as a state senator, said he was disappointed that the program still hasn’t taken effect. But he said it was appropriate to delay the rollout if there were still glitches in the system.

“This has to be done right,” he said. “We don’t want to interfere with the 80 percent of drivers who are in compliance with the law.”

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, www.dallasnews.com.

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