published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Tennessee legislation targets vehicle insurance dodgers

  • photo
    Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles explains the county's tag renewal website in this file photo.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Some drivers' practice of ignoring Tennessee's mandatory liability-insurance law would come to a screeching halt under a proposed bill to create a state electronic compliance system.

The measure would create a database and let county clerks check it to see if drivers meet financial responsibility requirements before registering or renewing their vehicle registrations.

Police also would have access to the database, which would be operated by the state Revenue Department.

The bill was filed by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, at the request of Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles.

Knowles said that, while Tennessee has a financial responsibility requirement for motorists, "it's policed on the rear end" after an accident or a traffic stop.

"If you get stopped by the police officer, you have to show him your insurance, prove your insurance," Knowles said Tuesday.

The bill's purpose, Knowles said, "is not to handicap anyone from getting tags, it's to get a better way to enforce the insurance law."

Dean, a retired Chattanooga police officer, said he believes the bill would "ensure restitution to those who are involved in crashes, especially when it's not their fault."

"I think we have far too many people driving on the roads in the state without proper coverage, and this is just one step to try to improve the percentage," he said.

Several bills pushed by lawmakers in the past to deal with insurance problems "could kill" renewals by mail or online, Knowles said. Moreover, scofflaws with access to a "sophisticated" copier easily can produce forged documents as proof they have insurance when they actually don't, he said.

In other cases, drivers cancel their insurance and no one is aware until an accident occurs, he said, which is not fair to most motorists who obey the law.

The bill says that, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, no certificate of title shall be issued to any motor vehicle or a vehicle's registration be renewed unless the county clerk or Revenue Department "receives satisfactory proof that the motor vehicle is subject to a policy of insurance that provides financial responsibility."

Satisfactory proof is defined as information obtained from the Revenue Department's records or database regarding the owner's insurance coverage.

Insurers would have to send confirmation of any policy or policy renewal sold. They also would have to notify the state when a policy is canceled.

Georgia has a similar law.

Knowles said he has discussed the proposal with Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts. The commissioner is "wholeheartedly in favor of this concept," Knowles said, but it remains to be seen whether the department is ready to move ahead with the database.

Knowles' proposal is "very worthwhile," Roberts said, but "I don't think we have the technology right now."

"What we'd rather do is, instead of piecemeal it, is try to solve some of our vehicle and title registration challenges and do it at the same time," Roberts said. "I think it's a great idea. The system we have now is much more cumbersome."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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