Aug 19 2008
Palo Pinto, Texas resident Debbie Huddleston said she had a perfect driving record for more than 30 years. She received no tickets, no violations, and no collisions. That was until she was involved in a two-car crash in Mineral Wells, Texas last month with an uninsured motorist.
“I was in the center lane [traveling eastbound in the 500 block of S.E. 1st Street],” Huddleston recalled, when a pickup turned into her on July 28. “I saw her coming and honked. I sped up [to avoid collision] but not enough.”
The Chevy Silverado, driven by a 60-year-old Mineral Wells woman, turned to the right and struck Huddleston’s driver’s side door. The damage to her car “wasn’t that bad,” according to Huddleston but required repair. She dropped the vehicle off on Aug. 4 and got it back Wednesday.
Fortunately for Huddleston, her insurance took care of the necessary repairs but left her with some out-of-pocket expenses.
“I had to go rent a car out of my pocket,” she said which, combined with her deductible, totaled $500. “That would’ve made an extra car payment or another payment on something.”
Mineral Wells resident David Tolbert also has a similar situation after his granddaughter was struck by an uninsured motorist on July 25. Tolbert said he’s trying to get the other driver to pay for the damages to his Kia Sedona.
“I was so upset about that,” Tolbert told the Index. “My granddaughter was driving and he lied and said he did have insurance.”
When Mineral Wells police arrived at the scene, they learned that the other motorist didn’t have any insurance coverage.
Tolbert said the repairs to the sliding door on his van could be as high as $3,000. If he can’t get the other driver to pay for the damage, he said, “It’ll come out of my pocket. I don’t like having to pay it. He’s the one that caused the accident.”
For his granddaughter, Tolbert said, “It was her first accident. It shook her up. She was just going down the road and he decided to turn. He just came right on over.”
According to the accident report filed by the Mineral Wells Police Department, the two vehicles were traveling westbound in the 300 block of West Hubbard Street with Tolbert’s Kia in the far south lane of the road when the collision occurred. The other driver, a 32-year-old roofer from Fort Worth, attempted to turn into the same lane and struck the Kia’s back door.
“She saw the vehicle but apparently he wasn’t paying attention. There wasn’t anywhere for her to go,” Tolbert said.
The prevalence of uninsured motorists on the streets might be higher than expected. In July, there were six collisions involving uninsured motorists – five of which were initiated by the uninsured driver – in Mineral Wells alone.
Mineral Wells Police Chief Mike McAllester estimated that close to one-third of collisions involve an uninsured motorist.
Figures for local law enforcement agencies reveal hundreds of citations were issued this year to motorists without insurance.
According to the Mineral Wells Police Department, the officers issued 1,034 citations for no insurance from Jan. 1 through the end of July. Every month showed more than 100 citations per month, with May the busiest month so far with 231 no insurance citations issued – or another way to look at it is an average of seven citations per day in May.
Local Texas Department of Public Safety officials reported issuing 469 citations from January through June. Like MWPD, May was their busiest month thus far with 110 citations written.
McAllester said, “We don’t arrest all persons for no insurance – their card may be expired or not in the vehicle. [But] if they say ‘I don’t have insurance,’ they are arrested.”
According to DPS Sgt. Jason Dudley, “if a violator doesn’t have proof of financial responsibility – expired or not present at all – at the time of the traffic stop, a citation is issued. If the defendant did in fact have insurance or financial responsibility at the time of the alleged offense and provides proof to the court, the citation is dismissed.”
Motorists are required by state law to carry insurance on their vehicles with required minimum coverage of $25,000 per injured person, up to a total of $50,000 for everyone injured, and $25,000 for property damage. This was increased from $20,000/$40,000/$15,000 in April following the passage of a Senate bill in September, the first increase in minimum insurance coverage in Texas in 22 years.
Not having insurance can become expensive in more ways than one.
According to the Mineral Wells court clerk, a citation for no insurance is $312 for the first occurrence. Each subsequent citation for the same charge increases the fee by $50. In addition to the citation fee, the Texas Department of Insurance stated in a June press release drivers could also face “possibly hundreds of dollars more in court costs and additional fees. Repeat offenders also are subject to a two-year driver’s license suspension.”
The driver who struck Huddleston was issued two citations – one for unsafe lane change and the other for failure to show proof of insurance.
“I think there should be more penalties [for no insurance]. You have to have it,” Huddleston remarked. “The same laws apply to everyone. … You may have to do without to get [insurance] to drive.”
Tolbert said the laws are good but enforcement is lacking.
“I figure the fine’s high enough,” he remarked. “The laws we’ve got are fine but we need to do something to enforce it better.”
As a retired law enforcement officer, Tolbert recalled, “I’ve worked a lot of accidents in San Antonio. We ran into that all the time. It’s very frustrating.”
In an effort to crack down on uninsured drivers, state officials unveiled in June a new program called TexasSure to identify uninsured vehicles. According to a press release issued by the Texas Department of Insurance at the time of the program’s announcement, they estimated there were approximately 4 million uninsured vehicles in the state.
While officials stated the new database verification program will be implemented statewide later this year, they field tested the program in the Austin area. During the 60-day testing period that is expected to end soon, law enforcement focused on Travis County. Of the 5,012 drivers stopped since June 2, 25.5 percent were without auto insurance.
According to the TexasSure Web site, “it is expected to help stop the actions some motorists take in avoiding the law, such as using counterfeit proof of insurance cards or obtaining insurance to get a card and then promptly canceling the policy once they’ve renewed their car registration or had their vehicle inspected.”
While the program is still in the testing phase, insurance companies offer something called uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for their clients.
“It’s very, very important to carry,” said Phil Luker, of State Farm Insurance. “It’s not only uninsured, it’s underinsured.”
He explained that when drivers carry uninsured/underinsured coverage, it helps in collisions when the other driver doesn’t have insurance or not enough.
“Say someone hurts you very, very badly. If they don’t have insurance, the uninsured/underinsured will step in and pretend it’s like the other insurance,” Luker illustrated. “If he has the state minimum of $25,000 and your medical bills are $50,000, after he exhausts his limits, your uninsured/underinsured coverage can step in and cover it.”
Even though motorists aren’t legally required to carry uninsured/underinsured coverage, insurance agents strongly recommend it.
“Uninsured/underinsured is not required by the state, only liability, but we’re trying to protect you,” said Pat Bazzel, of Farm Bureau Insurance. “If the driver has only liability and an uninsured motorist hits them, that car’s gone. If they have the uninsured coverage, we’ll fix it for them.”
Of his clientele, Luker said, “almost everybody carries it,” and if a driver doesn’t want the uninsured/underinsured, “we seriously counsel them” about it.
“That and liability are the most important coverages,” Luker added.
Bazzel remarked that they try to ensure every customer has uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage “because we see what happens here. We know that unfortunately, no matter how good a driver is, you can get hit.
“There’s been times when had it not been for uninsured/underinsured coverage, they wouldn’t have had anything left.”
In Huddleston’s case, she said her insurance took care of the repair costs, though she still had to pay her deductible and a rental car. Though Huddleston didn’t know if the July collision would financially impact her insurance costs, she noted, “It costs all of us.”
Tolbert didn’t have uninsured motorist coverage on his vehicle.
“I guess when you’ve just got liability, make sure you have uninsured [coverage], too,” he remarked. “I’m going to.”