ST. GEORGE– A new law to kick off the New Year is sending a strong message that Utah does not tolerate uninsured motorists on its roadways. Effective Jan. 1, Senate Bill 72 passed during the 2014 General Session of the Legislature, titled “Uninsured Motorist Provisions,” requires police to impound cars on the spot when they encounter uninsured drivers on Utah roads.
In the past, law enforcement officers had the option to impound the vehicles of those driving without car insurance. However, the new law, sponsored by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, now requires the uninsured vehicle to be impounded unless there’s a safety concern. For instance, in a situation where the driver is a mother with her small children in the car, the law gives officers discretion to not impound the vehicle.
Before impound, officers are required to check the person against a state database of uninsured drivers. If the driver insists they have insurance, the officer must make “a reasonable attempt” to verify if the person is covered, such as calling the insurance agency.
The law also requires Utah pay back drivers whose cars are wrongfully impounded, which legislative staff estimate will cost about $13,000 a year – covering about 25 wrongfully impounded cars. The driver must apply for the reimbursement within six months from the date the vehicle was impounded.
“I think it sends a message out that we have a serious problem whenever anybody drives a car that’s uninsured and hits someone,” Hillyard said. “Those people have no recourse because there is no insurance available.”
However, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, opposed the bill because he said he is worried about the accuracy of the uninsured driver database, stating he has heard complaints from individuals saying they were pulled over because the database incorrectly showed they were uninsured.
“These people, they had the proof,” Ray said. “They were still cited. They still had to go to court.”
Ray added that there are a lot of “ifs” and that he’s not sure it’s the role of government to say: “We’re going to take your car and impound it if your insurance isn’t paid on it.”
Rep. Jack R. Draxler, the House sponsor of the bill, said simply issuing tickets is not sufficient to change behavior.
“The need for this legislation boils down to a couple things,” Draxler said during a House Floor debate in March 2014. “The most important is that we have learned that over 70 percent of the people driving with expired insurance or no insurance are also subject to outstanding warrants, falsified identification or expired driver’s licenses as well as their insurance.”
“I want to stress that this is not people who are one day expired,” Draxler added. “This is people who are over three months expired.”
SB 72 in its final version passed the Senate on March 10, 2014, 25-0, with four senators absent or not voting. On March 12, 2014, the bill passed the House 38-31 with six representatives not voting.
The bill was then signed by the Governor on April 1, 2014.
Utah has the fourth-lowest rate of uninsured drivers in the country, according to the Insurance Research Council. Notwithstanding the relatively low rate, Hillyard said the new law is “a worthwhile price for the greater good” of making sure uninsured drivers don’t cause a financial burden to others if they get in an accident.
Ed. note: From Southern Utah, Sens. Steve Urquhart, Evan Vickers and Ralph Ockerlund voted for the bill; Sen. David Hinkins was either absent or did not vote. Reps. Don Ipson, V. Lowry Snow, John Westwood voted for the bill; Reps. Michael Noel, Brad Last voted against the bill; Rep. Jon Stanard was absent or did not vote.
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