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Enforcement of Auto Policy Law to Resume : Mass Suspensions of Driver Licenses Foreseen; Legislature Pressured to Lower Insurance Costs

November 22, 1987|KENNETH REICH | Times Staff Writer

After a two-year stay, enforcement of the state's mandatory auto liability insurance law, which was upheld last month by the state Supreme Court, is due to resume Thursday--with a 30-day warning period before citations are issued in most jurisdictions.

The start of actual ticketing of violators on Jan. 1 in most areas is expected to bring in its wake suspensions of thousands of licenses, at least until drivers can file proof that they have obtained coverage.

The threat of mass suspensions in turn is expected to result in new pressure being put on the Legislature to adopt changes in the law that would lower the prices of the required insurance policies.

An estimated 2.7 million of the state's 18 million licensed drivers are currently going without the required liability insurance. State officials expressed the hope that during the warning period many of them will purchase policies.

Must Furnish Proof

The only drivers against whom the law will actually be enforced, however, are those stopped for other violations. They will be asked by traffic police in the course of the stop to show written proof that they are carrying insurance.

Under another mandatory insurance law that has been in effect for many years, drivers who are involved in accidents must submit written proof of insurance directly to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Uninsured drivers who run afoul of this provision face a mandatory suspension of their driving licenses for one year and must show proof that they have insurance for three years after that.

Checks of various police jurisdictions on the southern and eastern sides of Los Angeles and nearby suburbs--where state Department of Insurance studies have indicated that as many as 86% of the motorists are going uninsured--found some officials expressing hesitation about how rigorous they will be in applying the law.

For instance, South Gate Police Chief Norman Phillips asked sharply: "What good is this going to do, ultimately? People here don't have any insurance. They don't even have the money to pay fines."

Phillips said that additional costs to his department of enforcing the new law might prove more than the city can afford. And, he said, he is concerned that under the law, the city must pay the state $10 for every conviction of an uninsured driver. Where will this money come from, if the drivers cannot pay their fines, he asked.

Assistant Sheriff Jerry Harper of Los Angeles County, speaking for an agency that has contracts to supply law enforcement services in many communities where the number of uninsured motorists is high, declared: "We have an awful lot of balls up in the air. . . . This is certainly something law enforcement will be enforcing, but we have a lot of (other) concerns."

Harper also questioned how many of the 47 municipal police departments in Los Angeles County will have really stringent enforcement policies, saying, "I can't say exactly how that's going to go."

California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Police Department spokesmen, on the other hand, said their agencies plan on strict enforcement.

Officials in both agencies said it will be uniform in the sense that there will be no special enforcement efforts directed at the inner-city areas known to have particularly high rates of uninsured drivers.

DMV to Play Catch-Up

Meanwhile, the Department of Motor Vehicles said, in a statement issued last week, that it will not only fulfill its enforcement responsibilities, but will play catch-up with the more than 200,000 motorists who had driver license suspensions placed on hold when the Supreme Court stayed operation of the then-5-month-old law on Dec. 5, 1985.

The DMV said it will mail requests to all the people whose licenses were liable for suspension requiring them to submit proof that they have obtained insurance since that date and have it in force.

If they do not comply, their license suspensions will be reactivated, officials said.

To escape this, said DMV Director Del Pierce, "they need only send us a California Insurance Proof Certificate, which they can get from their insurance company."

There are few indications as yet of any rush to buy insurance by those who are uninsured. For instance, David Kuizenga, manager of the California Assigned Risk Auto Plan, said that insurer of last resort has experienced no surge of buyers in recent weeks.

Many to Seek Coverage

But the experience of the summer and fall of 1985, when the law was in force, indicates that as the date for issuing citations approaches, many of the uninsured will seek to buy at least minimum coverage.

The minimum requirement is $15,000/$30,000 liability and $5,000 for property damage. This means that if a driver is at fault in an accident, his insurer will pay the other party up to $15,000 damages for an individual or $30,000 for two or more people, plus the $5,000 for property damage.

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