Uninsured drivers could be in for a rude awakening before too long in West Virginia.

 For years, some have gotten away with taking out temporary insurance, the “90-day wonders,” as some dub them, and keeping liability just long enough to get a vehicle registration card renewed, then dropping the coverage.

Some buy even shorter terms of liability, said Steve Dale, deputy commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles.

A report by the Insurance Research Council says the national average of uninsured motorists is 13.8 percent, and among the states, West Virginia stands at 11 percent.

“So, while we are not one of the top uninsured motorists states, according to the study, I would suggest that our rate is probably higher than these statistics suggest,” Dale said.

“It only takes one uninsured motorist involved in a crash to increase costs for the majority of responsible West Virginia drivers who act responsibly and obtain insurance.”

West Virginia law stipulates a 20-40-10 policy — that is, $20,000 for a one-injury accident, $40,000 for a two-injury crash, and $10,000 for property damage.

With a new law enacted a year ago, the DMV is inching closer to making electronic verification of insurance a reality.

The state agency is already taking strides to get there.

Motorists noticed a change in their registration renewal forms this spring — a line at the bottom asking them to list their NAIC number — one kept by carriers so that the DMV can confirm coverage.

“We might run the entire database once a week to see who has dropped insurance,” Dale said.

“It will also offer an opportunity for law enforcement to find out in real time whether or not a vehicle is covered by insurance at the time of a traffic stop.”

Actually, the addition of the NAIC number came a little ahead of time on the renewal forms, since this is a national code that insurance commissioners use to identify each insurance company, Dale explained.

For now, the DMV is seeking a third-party vendor to administer the program, made possible in a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, and Sens. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, Robert Plymale, D- Wayne, and Truman Chafin, D-Mingo.

“In most cases, that’s done by a third party, an independent contractor that already has those links established with insurance companies,” Dale said.

“And that went out on bid. Right now, we’re in the process of evaluating the bids. It will eliminate a lot of paperwork on our end and automate a process that currently is very paper intensive.”

Until the system is up and running, Dale said the DMV isn’t denying anyone a registration renewal for failure to have the new number.

In other states, the electronic verification system has been “very successful” in getting the uninsured off the roads, Dale said.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but we have come up with a plan that is close to the IICMVA (Insurance Industry Committee on Motor Vehicle Administration) that gets together and tries to advise motor vehicle departments on the best way of interacting with these companies,” Dale said.

“It’s a big issue with each of these companies if different states come up with different computer requirements.”

Dale said West Virginia’s plan is as close to the national model as possible.

Commissioner Joe Miller has a terse philosophy about the uninsured sharing the public roads and highways.

“Any uninsured rate is unacceptable, especially if you’re the one that’s involved with the uninsured motorist,” he said.

Not only will police be able to get real-time confirmation of coverage at a traffic stop, but the DMV can check anytime it deems necessary. And a check of the entire system takes only a few minutes. By June 1, 2013, all insurance companies will be online with the verification system.

“That’s one of the very, very beneficial parts of this,” Dale said.

“After we get all this up and running, we’ll be able to run the entire database of 1.3 million passenger vehicles instantaneously every week, or every month, and get a printout of the ones that don’t match.”

The system can afford a motorist some measure of protection as well.

A vendor will be required to maintain a call center to look at all entries and check them out. Perhaps the vehicle number was filed in error, or the driver was incorrectly listed as not having insurance.

“A vendor will be able to clear those files so people aren’t punished for not having insurance when they really do,” Dale added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com


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