At least 5,300 cars across North Carolina have had their tags taken away by police and deputies empowered by a new law to confiscate the plates of uninsured vehicles.
The law that took effect Dec. 1 gave local law enforcement the authority to confiscate plates that had been revoked for lack of insurance. Before then, the job was left to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Local officials didn’t always know when plates had been revoked, and if they did, all they could do was issue a ticket.
“All they were doing was giving a $50 citation, and the person drives away and still doesn’t have insurance,” said state Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, who introduced the legislation.
Now local officers can see on their computers when a vehicle’s license plate has been revoked because of lapsed insurance. Police department spokesman Capt. Bill Cobb said removing the plates takes only a few minutes.
About 400,000 drivers in the state are thought to be uninsured. Officials estimate the number of plates confiscated since Dec. 1 at 5,300 but say the actual number could be much higher.
Cobb said that he didn’t know how many plates his department had collected. “Every week or two weeks we’re taking them over to DMV,” he said.
The changed law is part of an effort to force drivers to pay their insurance bills. Lawmakers and insurance companies hope that doing so will lead to lower insurance payments for everybody else.
“The purpose is to reward people who are doing the right thing by following the insurance laws of North Carolina and to punish those who aren’t,” Folwell said.
The state Department of Insurance estimates that insurance companies will get 16,000 claims involving uninsured drivers at a cost of $80 million this year. Officials hope that taking their plates will either keep them off the road or force them to become insured.
“It ultimately will drive down the cost of uninsured-motorist coverage,” said Frank Folger, the legislative counsel for the insurance department. “And the more people who buy insurance, generally speaking, that has a tendency to have a positive impact on rates.”
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