TWIN FALLS — Some insured drivers around Twin Falls say they are upset.
Veronica Cameron, in fact, is livid.
On June 27, for the third time in two years, Cameron’s vehicle was hit in the Target parking lot and the responsible party fled the scene.
While a new law will help the state crack down on drivers without insurance next year, in the meantime there isn’t much the victims of uninsured drivers can do.
She didn’t even have permanent plates on the Honda Accord she’s been driving for just a short time, a replacement after the last collision totaled her 18-year-old van.
Cameron was driving across Blue Lakes Boulevard the day her van was hit.
“A young kid turns left into my driver’s side,” she said. “He failed to yield.”
That driver had no insurance.
“Thank God I have insurance or I would have been totally screwed,” Cameron said.
Before the crash involving the van, Cameron’s car was T-boned on North College Road and totaled. That driver didn’t have insurance, either.
Vera Newnham’s 1999 Cadillac Escalade was hit the evening of June 1 at Washington Street and Second Avenue West when the uninsured driver of a 1995 Honda Accord ran a stop sign. Newnham’s 10-year-old daughter was also in the car.
Newnham had liability insurance on the Cadillac. But when the claim’s adjuster decided the car was totaled, it left the family a car short, said her husband, Tom Newnham.
“We play by the rules,” Tom Newnham said. He wonders why others are allowed on the roads without carrying insurance.
“Thank goodness it wasn’t a serious accident,” he said. The uninsured driver was cited for running the stop sign and not providing proof of insurance.
The other driver will “be fined a few hundred dollars,” he said, “but she can still get to work in the morning.”
The Newnhams plan to file a civil lawsuit against the driver in an attempt to recover some of their losses.
“She needs to know she can’t get away with not having insurance,” Tom Newnham said.
The Idaho Transportation Department offers another option to those who have been involved in an crash with an uninsured driver: Once the court judgment has been entered, “the department will suspend the driving privileges of the uninsured driver until you have been paid,” says the document “Accidents with Uninsured Drivers” on the itd.idaho.gov website.
The North West Insurance Council reports that the number of uninsured drivers increased by 22% from 2012 to 2015, the most recent data available.
A key issue is mentioned often by insured drivers, insurance agents and even employees of the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles: The Idaho Department of Insurance lists the types of vehicle insurance required in order to drive in the state, but car owners are not required to present proof of insurance when registering their cars.
Owners are only required to sign a registration document stating the vehicle is insured, Twin Falls County DMV supervisor Connie Dunbar said.
“I/We certify under penalty of law that this vehicle is and will be continuously insured as prescribed by law,” the document says.
On the reverse of the registration paperwork, another clause warns owners that not maintaining insurance on a vehicle could result in the loss of the registration document and license plate, as per Idaho code.
Part of that statute will soon lead to a vital collaboration between the DMV and insurance companies, Dunbar said. It reads, “The department may immediately cancel the registration card and license plates of the vehicle upon notification that the insurance certification was not correctly represented.”
In fact, Dunbar explained, House Bill 179, passed during the 2019 legislative session and signed by Gov. Brad Little, will lead to the implementation of an online verification system for vehicle insurance.
“If someone drops their insurance, the state will be notified and the registration and license plates will be suspended,” Dunbar said.
Vehicle Identification Numbers, or VINs, will be matched with the state’s insurance database, according to the legislation. If no insurance is shown for that vehicle, the owner will be sent a notice after 60 days. If the owner does not comply, the vehicle’s registration will be revoked, and a $75 fee will be charged to re-register.
The legislation is set to go into effect Jan. 1.
Until that time, uninsured drivers continue to frustrate drivers who do abide by the law.
Including the state-required uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on vehicle insurance policies can decrease the likelihood of having to pay medical expenses after an accident with an uninsured motorist, but the coverage does not extend to vehicle damage. Owners can opt out of the required coverage, according to the insurance department website.
When caught, whether at a traffic stop or at the scene of a crash, those who fail to provide proof of insurance will be cited by the officer for the first offense. A second offense within a five-year period will be met with a misdemeanor charge, Amy Lavin, city deputy prosecuting attorney, said.
The possible sentence for that crime is a fine not exceeding $1,000 or up to six months in the county jail.
Whether an uninsured driver will have driving privileges suspended isn’t up to the court.
“That is determined by the Idaho Transportation Department,” Lavin said.
Dunbar sees the new legislation as positive. But in the end, there’s no definitive solution to getting uninsured drivers to comply with the law.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “it’s not going to stop people from breaking the law.”
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.