Panel OKs tracking of uninsured motorists in Miss.

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson says a proposal to track uninsured motorists through an electronic database is a good idea, but more work needs to be done on how to implement the plan.

The bill, which aims to force more motorists to comply with the state’s compulsory automobile insurance law, was approved by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

Under the legislation, officers with Simpson’s agency could use a database to check the insurance status of a motorist who’s pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding or running a traffic light. The agency would also run periodic computerized, random checks on registered license plates.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The bill would allow employees with county tax collector’s offices to check the status when motorists come in to buy car tags. If the motorist doesn’t have insurance, the tag won’t be issued. Simpson said the problem is that the bill doesn’t require the tax collector’s office verify insurance.

“If they have the choice to do it or not, what do you think they’re going to do?” Simpson said. “I think the intent of the bill is good. The mechanics of enforcing it have a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, who voted against the bill in committee, said the proposal could cause a hardship on people who might own a car but not drive it because the vehicle is disabled. Clark said owners sometimes drop insurance coverage if a vehicle isn’t working, but under the bill, a random check could lead to a fine.

“It’s a bad bill,” Clark said. “If law enforcement stops you and you show an insurance card, but it’s not in the database, you get fined. The database supersedes anything you might show.”

Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, said statistics show more than one in four Mississippi’s motorists are uninsured despite a 2000 law that requires the coverage.

Zuber said implementing the database could cost $1.3 million a year in subscription service fees that would be paid by the Department of Public Safety and tax collector offices. He said an estimated $2.5 million in fines would be generated from noncompliance with the liability insurance law. That money would help defray the costs to the state agency and local tax offices, he said.

The bill would allow the Department of Public Safety to set a fine between $50 to $500 for violations discovered through the random check. Motorists who are stopped during traffic violations would face a $500 fine for not having insurance, which is current law.

Zuber and other committee members said the bill will be revised as it winds through the legislative process. Zuber said about a dozen states have similar systems.

The bill is House Bill 620.