State lawmakers refused Thursday to crack down on the more than half-million Arizona motorists driving without insurance.
On a 7-6 vote the House Appropriations Committee rejected a proposal by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, to let police impound the vehicles of those who have not purchased the legally required minimum liability insurance. Foes of SB 1165 said there was too much chance that innocent drivers would end up having to walk home.
Under Arizona law, each vehicle must have coverage for $15,000 to pay the medical bills of each person they injure and $30,000 to cover everyone hurt. The law also mandates $10,000 worth of coverage for property damage, normally the repair costs to the other motorist’s vehicle.
And the law also requires motorists to carry proof of that coverage in their vehicle, usually in the form of a card issued by the insurance company which spells out the coverage and the effective dates.
What happens, Kavanagh said, is people buy the minimum coverage when they get a car to be able to register it and then cancel it. Those who are found without proof of insurance are issued a summons to show up in court with either proof that insurance was in effect at the time or that it has since been purchased.
He said that amounts to “telling the person to drive away in your uninsured motor vehicle, possibly to hit some other poor soul that has to pay the expense.”
Kavanagh said state officials estimate that close to 12 percent of the 4.8 million vehicles on the road are uninsured.
His measure is based on the Motor Vehicle Division maintaining an online database of which cars and trucks are insured, something that is supposed to be updated by insurance agents and companies.
Kavanagh said if someone is stopped, whether in an accident inquiry or for a violation, the officer would still ask for that proof of insurance card. If there were no card, then the officer would check the database.
And if MVD said it found no proof of insurance, the vehicle would be towed away.
The heartburn for some lawmakers is that Kavanagh acknowledged that database has a 3 to 4 percent error rate, and that some of those “mismatches” can last up to three months. He said that’s often caused by an insurance agent typing in the wrong vehicle identification number.
Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said that can translate out to about 200,000 vehicles — meaning 200,000 motorists who are at risk of having police tow the vehicle even if they are in compliance with the law. He said that’s the equivalent of the state’s eighth-largest city.
He questioned David Childers who lobbies on behalf of the Independent Agents and Brokers of Arizona, about who is going to pick up the costs for not just the towing but the time off work for those who are insured but have their cars towed anyway.
“You’re going to be responsible for the costs,” Childers said. But he said the matter might not end there.
“I have to think you’re going to make a call to your insurance company or your insurance agent and say, ‘Somebody messed up here,’” he said. “I think you would have a fairly good claim against whoever made the mistake.”
Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, said that error rate in the MVD system is too great to allow police to tow away vehicles based on what it says.
“This bill, the way it is structured, puts too many innocent people in jeopardy,” he said.