MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 2, 2013

State panel OKs bill punishing uninsured drivers

— OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma House committee approved a bill Tuesday that aimed at preventing uninsured drivers from receiving any monetary damages after auto accidents — even if the accident is someone else's fault — after its sponsor told committee members the bill would lower the number of uninsured drivers in the state.

The committee approved the proposal 10-6 Tuesday afternoon, with every Democratic member voting no. The bill passed the Senate 31-9 in March and now goes to the full House for consideration.

Nelson said his proposal is meant to penalize people who break state law by not getting auto insurance and to drive down their numbers. A 2011 report from the Insurance Research Council says about 24 percent of Oklahoma's drivers were uninsured in 2009, the latest year of data.

"We have a situation right now where a quarter of the people on the road aren't following the rules," Nelson said. "If you're not participating in the system that you're required to by law, then you shouldn't benefit from it."

The bill provides a handful of exemptions for uninsured drivers who are hit by another driver, including if the driver at fault crashed on purpose or was intoxicated at the time.

Still, several of the committee's Democrats took issue with Nelson's logic. Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman questioned whether his bill's penalty was allowed under the state's constitution, which guarantees a remedy for any injury.

Nelson said he didn't know that answer. He repeated that he didn't know when Rep. Corey Williams, D-Stillwater, asked if Nelson had any evidence that his proposal had lowered the number of uninsured drivers in other states.

The Insurance Research Council has found that similar measures lower that number by less than 2 percent. Ten states have this kind of penalty, according to the Insurance Journal.

"It's going to do exactly what I think it would do," Nelson said later in the meeting, focusing on the bill's potential as a punishment. "Right now there's no reason to follow the law."

Virgin countered that there was already a penalty for driving without insurance.

"That's called a ticket," she said.

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