Drivers face deadline soon to get required insurance

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Uninsured motorists don’t have much time left to get coveragebefore a new law takes effect, punishing them for their lack ofresponsibility, said local insurance agents.

Only four business days remain until the compulsory motorvehicle liability insurance law is implemented on Jan. 1, 2001.

Under the new law, which was passed during the 2000 MississippiLegislative session, drivers will be required to keep proof ofinsurance in their vehicle.

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Failure of the owner or operator of the vehicle to have proof ofinsurance is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 andsuspension of driving privileges for a period of one year, uponconviction.

Insurance agents fear the next few days will mirror the chaosAlabama agents saw when a similar law was passed in that state lastyear.

“When it went into effect in Alabama, the agents over there wereinundated by people trying to get insurance the day before. Somepeople stood in line for hours,” said Mike Smith, president andowner of a Brookhaven insurance agency.

Local agents say the waiting period can be reduced if motoristsbring complete vehicle and driver information when applying forcoverage.

“We’ve implemented a faster plan to help people get coveragequicker,” said Agent Mark Davis.

Although local agents have seen a slight increase in business,they do not believe the majority of previously uninsured motoristshave obtained coverage yet.

“We’ve probably had an increase of about 50 percent in autoinsurance,” said Davis. “They’re predicted that it will peak aroundthe first of the year.”

Donna Welch, an employee at another agency, believes the busiestday will be Dec. 31 because so many people have decided to waituntil the last minute.

The new law applies to all Mississippi motor vehicle operatorsand owners. It requires that all motor vehicles operated in thestate have liability insurance coverage with a minimum coverage of$10,000 per person per accident, $20,000 per person for bodilyinjury and $5,000 per accident for property damage.

Those who have tried to lengthen their time may have done sobecause they did not think they could afford coverage, according tolocal agents. The Christmas holidays may have also hindereduninsured motorists’ ability to purchase insurance, Davis pointedout.

If motorists establish coverage now, they may see a reduction incosts within a year, though.

“When you develop a relationship with an insurance company, andyou maintain a good driving record, you usually end up payingless,” said Davis.

The new law will offer motorists a little lead way, however. Ifthe owner or operator shows proof of insurance at the hearing dateor the date of payment of the fine, the fine can be reduced to$100. The fine and court costs can be waived if the owner oroperator proves that insurance was in effect at the time thecitation was issued.