There is a very good chance the 900,000 Alabama vehicles without liability insurance will be caught this year. On January 1st the State began enforcing a law designed to crack down on motorists who don’t abide by Alabama’s mandatory insurance law. This is one of several laws that took effect with the New Year. A new online insurance verification system, overseen by the state Revenue Department, will check insurance companies’ records within a few seconds to see if a motorist has insurance. County license plate officials will use it when issuing or renewing a tag. Law enforcement officers will use it when issuing tickets. The Revenue Department also will do random computer checks to find motorists who have dropped their insurance. The new system is the result of a bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, which was passed and signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley.
The Insurance Research Council estimates that 22 percent of Alabama’s more than 4 million private vehicles don’t abide by the mandatory insurance law, which is the sixth-highest rate of any state. According to Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee, her goal for the new system is to get that figure below 10 percent. She says that would be a relief for staff personnel at the state Insurance Department. Chief of Staff Ragan Ingram says that the number one or number two complaint the Department gets each year relates to uninsured motorists on the road in Alabama.
Under the current law, a motorist can buy insurance when it’s time to renew a car tag and get an insurance card to show officials. Then the motorist can quit paying for the insurance after one month, but still have the insurance card to show police if stopped for speeding. With the new system, the police officer can learn the status of the driver’s insurance while checking the car tag. Then the officer can write two tickets: one for speeding and one for driving without insurance. According to Commissioner Magee, the cost of driving without insurance can be more expensive than buying insurance. A first offense can result in a fine of up to $500 and subsequent offenses can go up to $1,000. It can also result in suspension of the vehicle’s registration. Reinstating it will cost $200 for a first offense and $400 for subsequent offenses.
In closing, let me add that all Alabamians who carry liability insurance on their vehicles should check on their “uninsured motorist coverage” limits. I suspect most are woefully low. If that’s the case, those limits should be increased significantly. Check with your insurance agent to see what your situation is. Also, remember that in Alabama uninsured policies also apply when a third-party tortfeasor is “underinsured.” If you would like more information on that subject contact either Julia Beasley or Mike Crow in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Julia.Beasley@beasleyallen.com or Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com.
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