January 2010 Editorial Winner

To impound or not to impound

David Gerard, Muskogee Phoenix
January 20, 2010

Driving an uninsured vehicle is illegal. Without insurance, a driver creates a greater financial risk to himself and other drivers.

But the state should see how the new Compulsory Insurance Verification System works before it begins impounding vehicles for failure to carry liability insurance.

Rep. Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville, is proposing a bill that would allow law officers to impound a vehicle if a driver is not carrying the required liability insurance.

Uninsured vehicles are a big problem in Oklahoma. The state estimates one in four vehicles are without proper coverage.

That’s why legislators approved the creation of a state database, which became operational last year, that allows police officers to know real time whether a vehicle has the required coverage or not.

According to state law, the fine for someone convicted of being an uninsured motorist is a maximum of $250 and up to 30 days in jail.

The state Department of Public Safety also suspends that person’s driver’s license upon conviction, as well as the registration of the uninsured vehicle. Getting those privileges back will cost even more.

Punitive laws persuade people to do the right thing, because as we all know, not everyone does the right thing. But we have to ask the question, at what point do added penalties stop having any effect on increasing coverage. Impounding vehicles may turn into a good business for companies doing the impounding, but it may not get more people to insure their vehicles and it may have unintended consequences.

Legislators and officials clamored for the instant verification system, saying it would resolve the uninsured motorist problem. Now only a few months after the system went into effect, they say they need even more extensive powers to penalize people.

Let’s see how the new verification system and fines work before hauling people’s cars away.