Auto Liability Coverage

Fort Worth insurance lawyers and those in Arlington, Grapevine, North Richland Hills, and other places in Tarrant County know that auto liability insurance coverage is mandatory in the State of Texas if you are operating a motor vehicle.
What would be surprising to most in Texas is that some states do not have very effective enforcement mechanisms regarding the requirements of auto liability coverage. One of those states has been Alabama. That is now changing.
The Birmingham News published an article recently that tells us the word “mandatory,” when used in the context of a law, means “permitting no option; not to be disregarded or modified.”
Alabama has had a “mandatory” vehicle liability insurance law on the books for well more than a decade — but not really. What makes a mandatory insurance law work is strong enforcement and instant verification.
Law enforcement officers have done a pretty good job on enforcement. If a motorist is stopped, an officer will likely make him produce proof of insurance along with his driver license.
Except that proof of insurance is too often more “poof” of insurance.
An uninsured driver can show a law officer a “valid” insurance card and have no insurance in place at all. The vehicle owner buys an insurance policy, gets a card indicating insurance in place, then cancels the policy. The “valid” insurance card doesn’t suddenly disappear from the irresponsible driver’s wallet, so it’s there to wave before a traffic officer when needed.
While enforcement of the mandatory liability insurance law has been adequate, the loophole has been in verification, and, thankfully, that’s about to change.
On Jan. 1, the state starts enforcing a law that allows instant insurance verification. The new system, overseen by the state Department of Revenue, has been a long time coming. It did very little good to require auto liability insurance, then leave a hole in the law so big you could drive an uninsured Humvee through it.
Now, thanks to a new law the owners of the estimated 900,000 Alabama vehicles without insurance are more likely to get caught.
As reported last week by The Associated Press, the Insurance Research Council says about 22 percent of Alabama’s private vehicles don’t have insurance. That’s the sixth-highest rate in the nation. The State Revenue Commissioner told The AP she hopes that figure will fall below 10 percent under the new system.
One of the top complaints received at the state Insurance Department comes from people who have been in a car crash with someone who is uninsured.
The enforcement side of this issue gets real help with the new system. Police will be able to learn the status of a driver’s insurance while running the vehicle’s tag. And the fine for not having insurance is steep, which will also encourage people to insurance-up.
A first offense can lead to a fine of up to $500, and subsequent offenses can go as high as $1,000 and result in the suspension of a vehicle’s registration.
This instant-verification technology has been around for years, but for whatever reason, the Alabama Legislature didn’t want to require its use.
Now, irresponsible Alabamians who try to drive outside the law will be more likely to be caught. And getting caught even once can be as expensive as having to purchase a simple auto liability insurance policy.
Besides, having auto liability insurance is just the right thing to do.