Many drivers on our roads in Michiana simply shouldn’t be there. They're breaking the law and driving without auto insurance. So how bad is the uninsured driver problem here in Michiana?
Many drivers choose to go without auto insurance even though it's against the law in both Indiana and Michigan. Many times those uninsured drivers aren't found until after they seriously damage property or even worse, hurt or kill someone.
Because the stakes are so high, buying a policy that protects you from uninsured drivers is a necessity. In this story, we introduce to some people who know the problems uninsured drivers can create all too well.
Spend a few hours on the road with Sergeant Bill Kraus and you might find an uninsured driver. “Couple of the answers are "I should have insurance or I think I have insurance,” says Kraus.
But even after Kraus pulls someone over, it can be difficult to figure out if that driver really has insurance. Proof of insurance cards aren't always valid. “A lot of time you don't find out they have insurance until a week or two later, when the other person comes in and says hey- we don't have the insurance company any more,” adds Kraus.
“I think more people are driving around without insurance, or waiting to the last moment where they may go into that lapse situation at the time,” says Allstate Insurance agency owner Patti Hoffman. “Most people will for it, get an insurance policy, pay one of two months and don't pay the rest in the six month period,” adds Hoffman.
If an unisured driver gets caught, the first offense is a 90 day license suspension and a $150 dollar license reinstatement fine. Second offense, another 90 day suspension and the fine goes to $225 dollars. Third time, same suspension and the fine is $300 dollars.
After each offense, new proof of insurance is needed to get a license reinstated.
“Biggest thing I think is hitting them in the pocketbook, at the impound or fines and stuff like that,” says Kraus.
Although there is no easy solution for this uninsured drivers problem, insurance agents advise that people at least get the uninsured or under-insured protection on their auto insurance plans.
“The best advice that I can give people is to talk with your agent, to make sure you are fully insured,” says personal injury attorney Jeff Stesiak of Pfeifer, Morgan & Stesiak.
Indiana lawmakers have introduced the possibility of an insured database a few times. That database would allow companies to alert the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) when someone drops their insurance policy. But the proposals haven't gotten very far. Some argue Indiana's BMV can't handle the database needed.
“Currently, the computer system is antiquated and the new computer system is even worse because it's spitting out bad information,” says Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka), a Chairman on Indiana’s Insurance Committee.
Sergeant Kraus also wonders how reliable a database would be to track the uninsured. “It would be nice if there's a way law enforcement could access insurance information easily, that would be great. Unfortunately, I don't know how easy that would be to,” adds Kraus.
Utah and North Carolina are states that already have databases in place. Officials in both states say their number of uninsured drivers has dropped.
Back here in Indiana, the BMV tells us it's trying to be proactive in finding uninsured drivers. “We did suspend over 100-thousand individuals last year for failing to provide a proof of insurance at the time of an accident or when we discovered they did not have insurance,” says IN BMV spokesperson, Greg Cook.
But still, there are thousands of people who've slipped through the cracks and are driving without insurance. The bottom-line is, those of us who do have insurance end up picking up the tab for those who don't. And some pay a much steeper price, like Hope Halasz and Tracy Dermody, both hit by uninsured drivers.
“Don't trust anyone on the road because you never know what could happen. I never thought anything like this would happen to me and it did, “ says Halasz. “It just completely changes your life, one minute you're happy, working, everything goes smooth. The next minute, you're mangled in the hospital, says Dermody.
In Part II of our series “On The Road & Uninsured,” we hear more from Hope and Tracy. The two women share their stories of attempting to recover from both financial losses and injuries after being hit by uninsured drivers. We'll also explore possible solutions to the problem of uninsured drivers, a problem that comes with no easy answers.