By Amanda Bland
TULSA, Okla — In an ongoing effort to curb the number of uninsured motorists on Oklahoma roads, law enforcement officers can now seize license plates from uninsured vehicles and assign temporary insurance.
The changes went into effect Nov. 1 under a new state law, but the Insurance Department said agencies won't begin enforcing them until January as procedures are established.
"This is an innovative approach," state Insurance Commissioner John Doak said. "It gives that law enforcement official, whether they be in rural Oklahoma or a metro area, a chance to make that decision" to seize the license plate instead of towing the vehicle, as allowed under a 2010 amendment.
"The ability to have both as an option will be a good thing," said Maj. Shannon Clark of the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.
When a citation is issued for failure to comply with the compulsory insurance law, it serves as a temporary license plate for 10 days, during which temporary liability insurance will be effective, according to the law.
Allowing officers the discretion to consider road conditions, proximity to a wrecker and the volume of calls awaiting the law enforcement agency's response by providing an alternative could be helpful, Clark said. He and Tulsa County deputies are reserving further judgment regarding the changes until more procedures are in place.
The Oklahoma Insurance Department estimates that nearly 563,700 vehicles in the state are uninsured, costing the state approximately $8.8 million in lost excise tax on insurance policy premiums.
"I've yet to be in a room ... that uninsured motorists haven't been a very big issue, and it impacts our entire state," Doak said of his yearly county-by-county tours.
Over the past year, the state Insurance Department and the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office held six safety checkpoints to target uninsured motorists in the county.
About half of 472 citations issued were for driving without insurance and 28 vehicles were towed due to lack of insurance, according to the agencies.
A Temporary Motorist Liability Plan authorized under the new law will provide minimum liability coverage after a tag is seized and a citation is issued.
The temporary insurance is effective for 10 days or until an insurance policy is issued on the uninsured vehicle and documentation is provided to the county sheriff's office.
The cost of the coverage will be added to the fees and fines that must be paid before the tag is returned.
Doak said the state is expected to announce soon the company chosen by a competitive-bidding process to provide the temporary insurance, as well as the daily rate that uninsured drivers will pay while covered under the plan.
The January enforcement date will allow the state time to establish the plan and coordinate training efforts with organizations such as the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association, the plan administrator.
The association has scheduled 12 training sessions for county sheriff's offices in the next two months, Executive Director Ken McNair said. The Oklahoma Municipal League will assist in training municipal police departments, he said.
The Oklahoma Sheriffs Association will also be responsible for receiving and disbursing a $125 administrative fee incurred by a motorist when a license plate is seized under the law. Portions of the fee will go to the county sheriff's office, the law enforcement agency that issued the citation, the temporary insurance premium pool and the plan administrator.
The fine for failing to comply with the compulsory insurance law is $250.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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