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No easy answers on uninsured motorists

By Don Mecoy Modified: April 5, 2008 at 12:48 am •  Published: April 5, 2008
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.

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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


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