Even so, actual real-world solutions remain elusive. The most draconian possible tactics have been tried and failed, often making the situation worse. The DRP attached huge, multi-year civil penalties to the violation which knocked 1.2 million people off the driver rolls, making them ineligible to even buy insurance. The state has created a massive, Big-Brotherish database of every active insurance policy, which has served only to document the problem, not reduce it. In Dallas and other Metroplex jurisdictions, drivers without insurance have their cars impounded. Name a radical, enforcement-only approach and it's been tried, usually in many places.
Terrence Stutz at the Dallas News reports that after years worth of git-tuff policies in Big D, 25% of Dallas-area drivers still have no auto insurance ("TexasSure program finds about 25% of vehicles uninsured in Dallas County," July 17). He reports:
It's a slight improvement over the last six months, but about 25 percent of all vehicles in Dallas County – 429,478 cars and trucks – remain uninsured, a new analysis by the state Department of Insurance shows.It's absurd for anybody to be claiming credit for moving from 26-25% uninsured drivers - that's hardly a statistical blip!
Dallas County continues to have the highest percentage of uninsured drivers of the six largest urban counties in Texas. In Tarrant County, about 21 percent of vehicles had no insurance coverage.
The figures, pulled from the database of the TexasSure vehicle insurance verification program, also indicated that 3.7 million vehicles statewide – 21.6 percent of the total – lack basic liability coverage, a violation of a state law requiring insurance.
Though the numbers are high, they're an improvement from December 2009, when nearly 26 percent of vehicles in Dallas County and 22.2 percent statewide had no insurance coverage.
Department officials credited the TexasSure program with helping to reduce the percentages.
Predictably, the comment section to Stutz's article quickly filled with calls for even more draconian measures (and also many calls for impounding vehicles, apparently not realizing Dallas already does that). But punishment alone cannot solve this problem. I replied in the comments:
The plain fact many commenters here ignore is that when 25% of drivers are uninsured, it would shut down the economy overnight to seize all their cars or otherwise stop them from driving. Sometimes reality must intervene during these absurd conversations.I discussed during the 2008 election season why our experience with auto insurance made me agree with what was then (but not now) Barack Obama's criticism of Hillary Clinton's mandatory health insurance plan. She suggested requiring everyone to buy insurance along the Mitt Romney/Massachusetts model, but in Texas requiring everyone to buy auto insurance - and enforcing the requirement with criminal penalties, no less - has resulted in nearly one in four drivers uninsured. That's a failed policy.
Speaking of which, why do Republicans hate Obama's healthcare plan for making us buy insurance but don't mind the IDENTICAL, failed scheme for drivers? If government forces you to have insurance, we should just pay at the pump through gas taxes and be done with it so everyone must pay. A requirement in criminal law to buy private insurance has been a complete failure, just as it will be when implemented for healthcare.
Of course, once Obama got into office, Clinton's plan ended up being essentially what he passed! And in its wake, he was labeled every kind of Socialist, Communist, Big Government Liberal, you name it for requiring everyone to purchase health insurance. So somebody please explain to me: Why isn't it also "socialist" to require drivers to purchase private auto insurance? What's the difference?
Since no matter what you suggest these days it seems like one is labeled a "Socialist," let me offer up an actually socialist solution, but one that's at this point the only viable option if we honestly want every driver insured: Drivers should pay at the pump through the gas tax for minimum liability coverage and essentially "nationalize" that market. Doing so would immediately cover every driver and eliminate the need for each driver to have a separate insurance payment for minimum liability. Insurance companies could still deliver liability insurance just like some today participate in Medicare or Medicaid. And they could still sell extra coverage for one's own vehicle, etc., so there's a significant auto insurance market beyond selling minimum liability. But if it's going to be a requirement to purchase insurance - to the point where criminal penalties and property seizure result if you choose not to enter into a commercial transaction with a private insurer - it'd be a lot cheaper and easier for everyone to just make it mandatory and universal.
There, I said it. Let the red-baiting begin!
Confusion over Amnesty rules?
Incidentally, at the end of his story Stutz mentioned the new Driver Responsibility rules, but I think he misstated what's going on with the Amnesty program. He wrote:
Public safety commissioners outlined two changes they hope will improve compliance, including a reduction in the surcharge that must be paid by indigent people – those making less than $14,000 a year – to 10 percent of the total, not to exceed $250.The way I read the Amnesty provisions, that's incorrect. As I understand it, "Each applicant eligible for amnesty will be required to pay 10% of the total amount of surcharges assessed, not to exceed $250." Then, "Once the department determines the applicant is eligible for amnesty, the department will rescind the suspension of driving privileges for each applicant that receives amnesty." After that, "Payment of the reduced amount must be received by the end of the amnesty period," and "If prior payment(s) exceeds the reduced payment, the driver will not be required to make a payment." However, "Any prior payments that exceed the reduced payment will not be processed for a refund." If you still had to pay the full amount, it wouldn't be much of an "amnesty," would it?
The other is an amnesty provision for those who have failed to make payments in the past. It will allow them to resume surcharge payments and have their driver's license reinstated if they pay 10 percent of what is owed, not to exceed $250. They still must pay the remainder of their surcharges to stay in compliance.
I'm not a lawyer but if there's anything suggesting those receiving amnesty "still must pay the remainder of their surcharges" beyond the $250, I'm not seeing it in the proposed rules.
The goal of the amnesty program is to reduce the massive backlog of folks who didn't pay and thus are for the most part now driving unlicensed and uninsured. That's particularly important among drunk drivers, who have the highest DRP surcharges but are also the folks you most want to make sure have auto insurance. There comes a point in the insurance debate when one must decide whether it's preferable to solve the problem or whether it's enough to punish and castigate everyone who fails to comply with the government's last failed solution(s). I'm pretty much sick of the latter approach.