Texas Uninsured Drivers Targeted Under New $6 Million Program

Texans driving without insurance may have a harder time dodging a ticket when the state unveils a $6 million database in January that will give police immediate access to updated coverage information.

The Texas Financial Responsibility Verification Program targets the state’s estimated 15 to 20 percent of motorists without valid insurance. Drivers can be ticketed $175 to $350 the first time they’re caught without a policy.

“Before officers ever get out of their car, they will be able to know if a driver is insured or not,” said Melissa Burkhart, the program’s director.

But critics say similar programs in other states are plagued with problems and don’t significantly reduce the number of drivers without insurance.

Some in the insurance industry worry that the program could create unintended problems for drivers if the databases aren’t kept current or the vehicle and insurance information don’t match up.

“What if I buy or sell car, and the database isn’t up to date? I could be pulled over if the (vehicle identification number) doesn’t match,” said Sandra Helin, spokeswoman for the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, a trade association representing most Texas insurance companies.

Under the program, insurance companies will be required to submit lists of Texas customers to the state and update them weekly to show who’s current on their payments and who isn’t.

Insurance companies began submitting information into the database in June.

Another phase of the program, starting in the fall 2008, will mail warning notices to drivers in the database who do not have current policies.

The Texas Department of Insurance developed the program. Private insurance companies will maintain the database, and police can access a driver’s insurance information simply by entering a license plate number.