Alabama bill upping car insurance requirements nearing passage

| 5/5/2008

An Alabama Senate panel advanced a bill that would require motorists to carry more liability insurance. Other legislation intends to encourage people to obtain proof of vehicle insurance.

For the past several years, drivers in Alabama have been required to carry liability insurance. The minimum amount has been set at $20,000 for a single injury or death, $40,000 for multiple injuries or deaths, and $10,000 for property damage.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee unanimously approved a bill that would raise the minimum amount of liability insurance that motorists must carry. Requirements would be boosted to $25,000 in coverage for a single injury or death, $50,000 for multiple injuries or deaths, and $25,000 for property damage.

Motorists would be required to comply with the new limits when they renew their current policies.

The bill – HB15 – now moves to the Senate floor for further consideration. If approved there, it would head to Gov. Bob Riley’s desk. The House previously approved it.

The Legislature approved a bill in 2007 that would have raised the minimum requirements to the amounts sought in this year’s efforts. Gov. Bob Riley, however, allowed the bill to die without acting on it, commonly referred to as a “pocket veto.”

Riley said that while he supports the concept, he had concerns about the bill because it didn’t include an implementation period for insurance companies to prepare new policies and motorists to purchase them. The new insurance requirements would have taken effect as soon as the governor signed it.

With that in mind, this year’s push for higher minimum requirements includes a 90-day phase-in for new policies. Renewals would be phased in over six months.

Another bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor intends to get tough with people who don’t obtain proof of vehicle insurance.

The measure – SB260 – targets drivers who register their vehicles without having insurance. It would require proof of liability coverage before vehicle license tags could be distributed.

Insurance companies also would be required to share information electronically about the insurance with the state’s Department of Revenue.

Alabama law already requires motorists to have vehicle liability insurance coverage. But, they are not required to offer proof. In fact, insurers estimate 30 percent of all residents drive uninsured, The Birmingham News reported.

One more bill would allow law enforcement to impound vehicles if the owner or operator cannot produce “satisfactory evidence” of registration and proof of financial responsibility. The vehicle owner would be on the hook for the impoundment.

After one year, the vehicle could be sold by the agency responsible for the impoundment.

The bill – HB37 – is in the House Public Safety Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor