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Uninsured drivers are targeted

The state insurance chief submits papers for an initiative that would allow police to take offenders' license plates.

November 17, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Uninsured motorists who ignore warnings from the state to buy coverage could have their license plates pulled by police officers under an initiative proposed by California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Poizner submitted papers with the attorney general's office Thursday to start the process that would allow him to gather signatures to put the measure before voters in the November 2008 election.

State law requires all motorists to have basic liability coverage, yet about 1 in 4 are uninsured, Poizner said.

"California has the worst uninsured-driver problem of any other state in the country except Mississippi," Poizner said in an interview.

He said his proposal, which must be endorsed with the signatures of 434,000 registered voters to earn a spot on the ballot, was needed to take scofflaws off the roads.

"Driving without insurance is not only against the law, but it creates a huge safety issue and creates a huge financial liability for folks" who get hit by uninsured drivers, Poizner said.

He noted that insured drivers typically pay an extra 10% to 15% in premiums to protect themselves from damage caused by uninsured drivers.

But advocates for extremely low-income workers and their families said Poizner's initiative, if it became law, could be a hardship for people who can't afford insurance or can't get coverage because they are illegal immigrants and are prohibited from getting driver's licenses.

Nancy Berlin, the director of California Partnership, a Los Angeles-based community organization, contended that even California's state-backed low-cost auto insurance program, which provides basic coverage for as little as $400 a year, is too expensive for some families.

"We work with very low-income people, some temporary workers surviving on very minimal wages," Berlin said. "They don't have any money left over at the end of the month. Four hundred dollars doesn't sound like a lot until you have to live on $8,000 a year."

The proposal would allow police and Highway Patrol officers to take a driver's license plates if he couldn't provide a paper proof-of-insurance certificate or if there was no record of insurance coverage in the state Department of Motor Vehicles' electronic records. The driver would be issued a temporary permit to continue to operate the car for up to seven days. The driver would need to buy insurance to be able to register the car.

Poizner, a Silicon Valley near-billionaire Republican who took office in January, said he was pursuing the initiative to make good on a campaign pledge to do something about the problem of uninsured drivers. Critics, however, say he is trying to raise his profile for a possible run as a Republican candidate for governor in 2010.

Poizner called such talk speculation.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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