Let’s say you are driving on a four-lane road. There are two cars ahead of you, one beside you, and two behind you. Studies say chances are high one of the six cars has no automobile insurance. Not “too little” automobile insurance. None, zero, zilch.
But, you have no reason to feel uncomfortable. You are now playing automobile roulette with only one empty chamber in the gun. Does that make you feel any better?
For some reason, California seems to not care if you are at risk of being in an accident where the other party is uninsured. In fact, we are so blasé about it that your insurance company is glad to sell you “uninsured motorist coverage” at your expense to take care of the problem.
Other countries I have visited don’t have this problem. Every car on the street is required to have insurance coverage. There are no exceptions and proof of financial responsibility is not accepted. Self-insurance by commercial businesses and others entities is permitted but under strict controls as they are here. But how do they monitor this demand?
They have found a brain dead, simple way. In the lower, right-hand, inside corner of the windshield is a small clear sleeve much like we use for the new purchase documents for a new car. But instead of a temporary registration, it contains a proof of insurance with the name of the company, a policy number and bold lettering showing the effective dates. Often, it is of a distinctive shape and/or color which is easily seen from a distance. It doesn’t list the owner’s name or address to prevent misuse. The usual minimum insurance coverage is three months. It requires prepayment and is non-refundable without surrendering the proof of insurance in the car. Once the owner of the car makes the initial coverage payment, the monthly payments apply to the future so the coverage is never behind on payments or a new certificate isn’t issued.
Some countries issue a new decal every three months to be placed in the same location. It also is distinctive in color and shape and easily recognized from a distance for enforcement purposes.
If there is an accident, each party simply writes down the information from the windshield and the issue of who is responsible is resolved later. But there is never a concern that both parties are insured. If a car doesn’t have a current proof, the car is towed away no matter how minor the damage may be.
Without this proof of insurance in these countries you cannot even park the vehicle on the street. It will be towed. Of course, you can get it back — just pay the impound fee and show proof of insurance or prove it will not be parked on the street while uninsured.
Problem solved. There are essentially no uninsured cars on the roads. The tiny number that exist are quickly towed away. And there is no need for uninsured motorist insurance. Cars from other countries (in our case, other states) show proof of insurance at the border agricultural inspection stations and are issued temporary window stickers. If there is no insurance, it is purchase right there. I’m sure in-state insurance companies would gladly sell it at the border as they do in other countries.
Driving is a privilege, not a right. There are many duties accompanying this privilege. One must be competent to do so, licensed and insured. Many states even require a simple inspection of vehicles every year to make sure it is safe. Our problem is enforcement. In many places in the world, this has proven to be a safe and effective way to make sure the driving public is protected. Why don’t we adopt this approach?
Here is my modest proposal: Proof of auto insurance should be clearly displayed in the windshield of every car on California roads.
Jon Stuebbe is retired after 20 years as a Kern County Superior Court judge. He was previously dean of California Pacific School of Law. The opinions expressed are his own.