Insurance agents who sell personal lines in California might be getting more calls than usual from consumers seeking auto insurance, now that the state is cracking down on uninsured motorists. Following legislation SB1500, the Department of Motor Vehicles has begun checking the 22.4 million private vehicles registered in the state against a database of insured vehicles updated by insurance companies to find drivers who are illegally driving without insurance coverage.
Uninsured motorists that are discovered are given a 30-day suspension warning in which they can buy coverage or show proof of coverage to avoid a suspension. Ignoring the notice could lead to fines that exceed $1,000 and seizure of the vehicle if a motorist is cited for driving with the registration suspended.
“What we’re finding is that the uninsured is getting notice and starting to call around,” said David Nielson, executive director for the California Alliance of Insurance Agents and Brokers. “December is usually a quiet month, but it’s been a lot busier this month than it has been in the past.” He also noted that the first vehicle registration suspensions will take place on Dec. 17.
According to the Insurance Commissioner’s office, the review already has generated 314,000 auto registration suspension warnings statewide in December; 20,000 of them in San Diego County. About 14. 3 percent of California drivers are uninsured, according to the 2003 California Department of Insurance statistics. About 15 percent of accidents in the state involve uninsured motorists.
“Every day more than 3 million uninsured motorists drive on California roadways,” said Commissioner John Garamendi. “With the new stringent DMV insurance reporting law in effect, drivers will never be able to register their vehicle unless they have continuous proof of insurance on file,” he said.
Some attribute the lack of insurance to rates charged by insurers that are beyond many consumers’ financial reach. The average California driver paid $832 a year for auto insurance in 2003, the last period for which figures were available, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
However, Commissioner Garamendi noted the California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program could make coverage more affordable. The program was recently expanded with broader eligibility guidelines, making it easier for qualified good drivers to get a policy. “The Low Cost Auto Insurance Program provides an excellent opportunity for qualified, low-income drivers … to get insurance,” Garamendi said. “Why risk driving without insurance when you can purchase it for only $268 a year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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