Delay in contract award may harm Oklahoma revenues

A proposed traffic camera system being counted on by state budget officials to generate at least $50 million in revenues off uninsured drivers this fiscal year has run into roadblocks.
BY RANDY ELLIS Published: August 1, 2010
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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 program.

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.

Problems predicted

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."

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