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VOL. 116 | NO. 192 | Thursday, October 3, 2002

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Amnesty runs out for no insurance offenders

Amnesty runs out for no-insurance offenders

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 committed.

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, Long said.

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.

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