A proposed traffic camera system being counted on by state leaders to generate at least $50 million in revenues from uninsured drivers this fiscal year may have run into roadblocks.
American Insurance Association attorney Jeramy Rich says the technology has weaknesses and claims many insured Oklahoma motorists are going to be harassed with undeserved fine notices if the system is implemented.
Jonathan Miller, chairman of a company that is part of a consortium competing for the contract, disagrees. Miller contends a good system can be put in place, but says continued delays could jeopardize the system's ability to produce $50 million this fiscal year.
Bids for the project were opened more than 2 months ago.
Wellon Poe, general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, can't predict how much longer the bid review process might take.
"We're trying to evaluate everything from how it's going to be done to who's going to do it. There have been no final decisions on any of it."
Oklahoma Insurance Department officials estimate between 18 and 23 percent of vehicles on Oklahoma roads are uninsured. The contract calls for fixed or mobile cameras to photograph license plates on moving vehicles. Computers would transmit the data and match it to insurance verification information on national, state and insurance company databases.
Industry officials say technology has advanced to the point it is possible to almost instantaneously determine whether a car is listed as having insurance. If no insurance is found, the owner of the vehicle would be sent a letter giving the individual the opportunity to show that a mistake has been made or pay a $250 fine.
Former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer is among the vocal advocates of the
Once a company is selected, competing bidders say it is expected to take three months to get a system up and operating.
"It's not a simple deal," Poe said.
Rich said he sees several problems. His association was involved with the four-year development of the electronic database system Oklahoma law enforcement officers now use to determine if a motorist has insurance when they make traffic stops.
Fleet and company owned vehicles are special problems because blanket insurance policies don't electronically link the policies to each vehicle identification number in the fleet, Rich said. Law enforcement officers must rely on paper insurance verification card checks to determine whether fleet vehicles are covered.
"I don't know how you would ever coordinate that with the camera enforcement system," Rich said. "The way that system is going to work is that when you don't show up in the data search done by any of these companies ... then you get a ticket."
Company officials will get irritated if they start getting lack of insurance fine notices, he said. There would be an appeals process, but people won't want to have to deal with it.
Rich also questions whether the state has the authority to implement the program, whether it will really generate the $50 million a year and whether it is appropriate to allow a private contractor to issue ticket notices and keep a portion of ticket revenue.
Rich recommends scrapping the bids and relying on increased enforcement by state, county and local law enforcement.
"This system is not up and running and fully functional in any other state in the union," Rich said.
Miller discounted Rich's concerns, saying they are "simply not true."
He said insurance companies are against the camera insurance verification program because it will drive down insurance rates and that will cut into profits of insurance executives.
"They know that this will work," said Miller, chairman of Chicago-based InsureNet. "We know our business very, very well. ... Our technology allows us to know if it's a fleet vehicle."
Miller said he is "mystified" by delays in awarding the contract and hasn't heard anything from Oklahoma officials in a long time.
Poe thinks any problem with fleet vehicles can probably be resolved before tickets are issued.
However, he said, when a driver carries motor vehicle insurance, but the vehicle itself is not insured, a camera system won't detect that and owners of the vehicles likely will get ticket notices that will have to be corrected later. It's not a big problem in Oklahoma because insurance usually goes with the vehicles rather than the driver, he said.
The chairman of MV VeriSol, another company competing for Oklahoma's insurance verification contract, agrees with Miller that fleet vehicles should not be a problem.
Chairman Charles Pecchio said he is more concerned about out-of-state vehicles.
Pecchio thinks additional legislation is needed before issuing citations to out-of-state drivers.
Miller thinks reciprocity agreements among states would allow the consortium he is with to enforce tickets issued to out-of-state vehicles as well as Oklahoma vehicles.
State officials contacted by The Oklahoman did not seem overly concerned about the potential impact on the budget that a loss of some or all of the $50 million in anticipated revenues would have.
Paul Sund, spokesman for Gov. Brad Henry, said revenues from some budget sources usually produce more money than expected and some produce less. He also pointed out the state is only allowed to appropriate 95 percent of anticipated revenues, so a cushion is built in.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge expressed similar sentiments.