VOL. 116 | NO. 192 | Thursday, October 3, 2002
Amnesty runs out for no insurance offenders
Amnesty runs out for
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
Beginning this week, driving
without insurance could cost violators at least $136.75 in court costs as
Memphis police officers begin enforcing a city ordinance signed by Memphis
Mayor Willie Herenton Sept. 16.
The ordinance is the local
response to amendments to the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Act proposed
by state Rep. Kathryn Bowers (D-Memphis).
The state law, which went
into effect Jan. 1, required drivers stopped for any traffic violation or at
the time of an accident to provide proof of financial responsibility.
From the start, enforcement
of the law in Shelby County was fraught with problems.
Under the law, a conviction
for failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility meant a Class C
misdemeanor with a $100 fine. In addition, once the state was notified of the
conviction, the drivers license was suspended.
A Class C misdemeanor can
result in an arrest. Taking a person Downtown meant police could be away from
their duties while processing non-felony offenders.
Bowers proposal changed the
statute to read that offenders should be cited with a mandatory court
appearance in lieu of arrest.
Drivers in Tennessee are not
required by law to carry liability insurance, but are subject to the states
Financial Responsibility Law.
The laws intent was to
protect the public from financially irresponsible drivers who become involved
in accidents or drive with repeated violations.
To comply with the law, drivers must have documentation,
such as an insurance card, binder or declaration of a policy from an insurance
company authorized to do business in Tennessee, stating that an insurance
policy meeting the requirements of the 1977 Tennessee Financial Responsibility
Law has been issued. They also may show a certificate from the Tennessee
Department of Safety for a $60,000 bond.
Bowers said she believes
liability insurance should be mandatory, but due to industry pressure, the
proposal did not progress.
If you are going to pass a
law, then go all the way. It should be mandatory, she said.
Bowers said she wishes
individuals purchasing cars or registering automobiles were required to show
proof of financial responsibility.
Collision insurance is an
issue not addressed by the state law, but the Department of Safety advises
drivers to carry liability insurance, as driving privileges can be suspended if
no liability insurance is in effect at the time of certain incidents. These
occurrences include contributing to an accident, reckless driving convictions,
driving under a revoked or suspended license, failing to stop after an
accident, driving under the influence or drag racing.
In order to enforce the law
within municipalities such as Memphis, a city ordinance in compliance with the
new law had to be passed, said Insp. Bobby Todd, MPDs traffic division chief.
Memphis police officials went
before the Memphis City Council to propose a city ordinance to comply with the
state financial law and evidence of compliance. Council members approved the
ordinance Aug. 20.
In the meantime, officers
issued warnings to drivers who couldnt produce proof of insurance during
routine traffic stops.
Now, anyone stopped for a
routine traffic offense will be asked to produce proof of insurance. If the
driver doesnt have it available, he or she will be issued with a mandatory
court appearance citation.
Drivers will be asked for
proof of insurance only during routine traffic stops, said MPD director Walter
Crews. He said police would not stop anyone unless a traffic violation is
As enforcement is stepped up,
City Court Clerk Thomas Long advises drivers to have proof of insurance in
their cars at all times to avoid having to go to court.
Once they come to court its
up to the judge, and whatever the judge decides, thats where I get involved,
If the judge dismisses a
case, Longs office doesnt get involved, but if the driver still doesnt have
proof of insurance, he or she may be fined up to $50 the maximum fine in
Memphis city courts.
Since the offense is
considered a moving violation, drivers also can be charged $61 in court costs.
In addition, they must pay Memphis City Schools driver education fee of $12,
as well as a $13.75 litigation fee which comes to a total of $136.75.
Make sure you have proof of
insurance. Put one in your glove box, put one in your wallet then if somebody
else is driving your car, its there. And, if youre driving, youve got it in
your wallet, Long said.