By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
Gone are the days of handing a card to a police officer in order to prove one has car insurance, at least in this state.
Starting on Jan. 1, the state of Alabama enacted its Online Insurance Verification System (OIVS), which allows law enforcement officers to know instantly whether a car is covered by liability insurance. The state passed a law in 2000 requiring all cars on the road to have liability insurance.
In the past, some drivers would purchase liability insurance, which is often issued in six-month policies, and then cancel the insurance a month or two later. However, they still had the card indicating their vehicle insurance was up to date for the full six months.
Alabama Department of Revenue Commissioner Julie Prendergast Magee, who spoke at the Jan. 9 Gardendale Area Rotary Club meeting, said that was a big problem — until now.
Magee said there are three ways to get caught: Law enforcement officers who pull over a driver, license plate issuing officials when a driver renews his or her tag, and the revenue office in Montgomery.
“At any time, a revenue officer can audit any tag in the state,” Magee said. “That’s the key to this. It was not enforced before.”
OIVS does not change the requirement to carry proof of vehicle insurance; drivers must still carry the card.
If OIVS can not verify a driver’s insurance when the driver is renewing his car tag, the driver must present proof of insurance. The insurance will then be
verified by the revenue department in Montgomery.
State Farm insurance agent Will Hardman of Gardendale said he likes the new law.
“In a nutshell, I think it’s a positive thing,” said Hardman. “It will affect everyone in a positive way. Those who have insurance are forced to pay for those that don’t, with increased premiums overall.”
It is estimated that 22 percent of Alabama’s drivers are uninsured, which Magee said is the sixth-worst rate in the nation.
And now, the fees are steep for those who do not play by the rules.
The first violation brings a fine of $500, and the second or subsequent violations cost $1,000. Plus, there is a $200 fee to get the vehicle registration reinstated the first time, and a $400 fee the second or subsequent times, plus a four-month registration suspension.
“The legislators were serious about this bill,” Magee said. She is pleased with the tough law, saying it is unfair for law-abiding citizens to get hit by uninsured drivers and get stuck with the bill or have to file on their own insurance.
She said getting and keeping liability insurance is “dirt cheap compared to getting caught the first time.”
That is true if a driver has liability insurance only, in accordance with state law, according to Hardman.
“Buying insurance isn’t like buying a textbook, where it’s all the same price,” said Hardman. “It depends on your credit, your driving history and your history of having insurance. You can’t just put a blanket price on everyone for insurance.”
He said liability insurance alone is fairly cheap, although he “highly recommends” that most drivers have additional policies in order to protect themselves, such as uninsured motorist, collision, a comprehensive policy and others.
“But if you get a policy with only liability, yes, it would be much cheaper” than the fines, he said.
The way OIVS works is that is that the state matched the vehicle registration database with insurance databases, which she said most insurance companies turned over voluntarily.
“The whole goal of this is to lower the number from 22 percent of uninsured drivers to fewer than 10 percent,” Magee said.
More information is available at besuretoinsureal.com.