Alabama Legislature OKs bill to boost car insurance requirements

| 5/21/2008

A bill on its way to the governor’s desk in Alabama would require motorists in the state to carry more liability insurance. Other legislation that is sidelined was intended 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 state’s House 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 – SB4 – now moves to Gov. Bob Riley’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. The Senate already approved it by unanimous consent.

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

Riley said at the time 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.

Two more bills that have died were intended to get tough with people who don’t obtain proof of vehicle insurance. One bill – SB260 – that didn’t gain favor from the full Senate targeted drivers who register their vehicles without having insurance. It sought to require proof of liability coverage before vehicle license tags could be distributed.

Insurance companies also would have been 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 that 30 percent of all residents drive uninsured, The Birmingham News reported.

Another bill – HB37 – that didn’t make it out of committee called for allowing 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 have been on the hook for the impoundment.

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

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor