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July 2, 2014

Addressing uninsured: Insurance commissioner: Enforcement ‘hit or miss’

ENID, Okla. — Enforcement of a new uninsured motorists law is “hit or miss,” Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak noted Tuesday while in Enid.

Doak met with Garfield County Sheriff’s Office personnel about the law and to discuss the partnership with the Sheriffs’ Association to pull tags.

“It’s kind of a new law so we’re trying to get some feedback from the sheriffs and find out how that’s working and how we can make that better,” he said.

Through the law, car tags may be seized and kept at the local sheriff’s department. The uninsured driver then will pay for daily insurance until he or she acquires private insurance and pick up the tag.

“The component to that is ... if they continue to drive and hit someone, then they have state minimum coverage,” he said.

More than 600,000 Oklahomans are driving without insurance — meaning one in four cars on the road does not have coverage, Doak said.

“When you think about it that way, it’s pretty shocking,” he said.

As Doak meets with various sheriff’s departments, he is finding it is “hit or miss” when it comes to tags being seized.

“It’s a new law. Some of them probably are not adequately staffed and don’t focus on traffic. Some of them do more investigative type work. Some counties are really embracing it,” he said. “It is manpower issues that are the key.”

While sheriff’s departments are the collection point for seized tags, Doak said there needs to be a “wider net,” with metropolitan and rural police seizing tags and turning them into the sheriff’s department.

Several loopholes have surfaced — including some drivers being able to purchase a different tag, after their tag is seized — and Doak said work is under way to block those loopholes.

“So, we have a lot of different issues out there, but we had to start somewhere,” he said.

Doak said he will be looking at what other states are doing to see how Oklahoma can best approach the insurance enforcement process.

“But, I think the new law on the books is good because it gives that officer discretion to either tow the vehicle or remove the tag. If they’re in a rural area, they don’t have to wait for such a long time for a tow truck,” he said.

Doak met about the law with sheriff’s department officials in Grant, Alfalfa, Woods, Harper and Ellis counties on Monday.

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