About one of every four vehicles on Oklahoma roads is uninsured, and there's not much that can be done to improve that, state officials say. Oklahoma lawmakers have proposed and adopted a number of measures designed to punish uninsured motorists, but the state's rate of uninsured motorists has remained steady in recent years, said Lonnie Jarman, driver compliance director at the state Department of Public Safety. “In the 50 states and the District of Columbia, there is no one that has found the perfect solution,” Jarman said. Many motorists who fail to carry auto insurance do so because they can't afford it, Jarman said. “Most states have found regardless of what they try to do, it doesn't change that rate very much,” Jarman said. “The reason why that is, is because it's a social issue, the social issue being, ‘I can't afford it.'” The Insurance Research Council, an industry group, estimates that 14.8 percent of Oklahoma motorists are uninsured, the 18th-worst rate in the nation. But law enforcement, insurance and state officials think the actual rate may be twice as high. Dan Ramsey, president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, estimated that between 23 percent and 30 percent of state motorists are uninsured. “Everybody who has insurance is paying for those who don't,” Ramsey said. “So then you figure your insurance rates might be 23 to 30 percent higher than they ought to be.” Most Oklahoma motorists purchase insurance that will pay for damage inflicted in accidents with uninsured or underinsured drivers. About 58 percent of Oklahoma Allstate customers carry such coverage, which costs nearly $200 a year per policy, Allstate Spokeswoman Shelly Beeler said. Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, wrote a bill last year to allow law enforcement officers to impound vehicles that were uninsured. The bill was not adopted. Anderson, who thinks as many as one in three state motorists are uninsured, said he pushed for the measure in response to constituents' complaints. “One lady in particular, a single mom, was paying her $30 month for auto insurance and gets hit by an uninsured motorist, and now she has no vehicle and no money to replace the vehicle,” Anderson said. “She's at a huge loss and she was doing everything she could to comply with the law.” Citations, not warnings Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Chris West said “the vast majority” of law enforcement agents typically cite — rather than issue warnings — motorists who fail to provide proof of insurance or admit that they have no coverage. “My family has been in that situation where my wife was involved in a collision and the other person didn't have insurance,” West said. “It's frustrating. You're doing what you're supposed to and the other person isn't.” The number of tickets issued in Oklahoma for people who don't have insurance or proof of insurance has been on the decline, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “I think it has to do with enforcement,” said patrol spokeswoman Betsy Randolph. “Once we start dipping into people's pocket books, they start paying attention.” People who are issued citations for not having insurance will have to pay a fine and pay to have their license reinstated. “We don't do a specific campaign that targets the uninsured,” Randolph said. “That's always one thing we ask for, driver's license and proof of insurance. People need to have that in their vehicles at all times. People need to be able to display to a peace officer, (and) if they don't they can get a citation. In the case of an accident, there's zero tolerance.” Jarman said he thinks the rate of uninsured motorists isn't getting any worse, but it isn't improving either. A new Web-based method of instantly identifying uninsured vehicles is scheduled to launch in Oklahoma on July 1, Jarman said. A similar computerized system in Texas has been plagued with glitches and inaccurate information that could prompt officers to take action against drivers who are insured, said Jerry Johns, of the Texas-based Southwest Insurance Information Service. “It has become a nightmare,” Johns said. “It was supposed to start in January, and they're no closer now than they were before. The real issue is the accuracy of the information that goes in.” Ramsey, of the independent insurance agents group, said an accident with an uninsured motorist can turn a life upside-down. “It couldn't be a bigger headache, bigger than you ever imagined,” Ramsey said. “People have to approach it with the belief that the other guy doesn't have insurance.” Legislation stalls Legislation to penalize uninsured drivers by limiting how much money they can receive if they are involved in an accident has stalled this year. The bill's intent is to encourage more Oklahomans to buy auto and truck insurance. The measure passed the House 90-8, but never was heard by a Senate committee. The deadline for the Senate to act on House bills was Thursday. However, language in the measure could be attached as an amendment to another bill that has a similar subject. Another measure, Senate Bill 2182, failed to pass out of a Senate committee. The bill would have allowed those who suffered a personal injury or incurred property damage as a result of an accident by an uninsured motorist to be eligible to receive money from a state fund. The fund would receive money from fines assessed to uninsured motorists.
Left: Josiah Washington, 5, holds a photo of his mother, Jennifer, who died in a crash involving an uninsured motorist accused of driving under the influence of drugs. He is seated next to his brother Jeridan, 1. By Jaconna Aguirre, THE OKLAHOMAN