PHOENIX – A bill to let police tow and impound cars without insurance met a narrow defeat in Arizona last week, highlighting the attention paid to the issue by the state and the harsh penalties for driving without coverage there, according to Online Auto Insurance News.

Estimates from the Insurance Research Council put the number of uninsured drivers in Arizona at 12 percent, which is just below the U.S. average of 13.8 percent, according to 2009 data.

Under the proposal, a police officer would have referred to an electronic database that verifies a motorist’s car insurance online and been allowed to tow and impound the car if its policy showed up as being canceled or non-renewed. The proposal’s author, Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), said current law allowed drivers to leave a traffic stop in an uninsured vehicle even if police found that they lacked a policy.

A narrow 6-7 vote defeated the bill, SB 1165, during a March 22 hearing in the House Appropriations Committee, with critics saying database errors could lead to towing and impounding of innocent drivers. Kavanagh told other legislators that the database had a 3- to 4-percent rate of incorrect vehicle registration numbers, usually attributed to typing errors when VINs are inputted. Dissenting lawmakers balked at the possibility that the law could unintentionally victimize up to 200,000 owners of vehicles with proper policies but incorrect data in the system.

OAI suggests that Arizona drivers adhere to coverage requirements and stay off the road if they don’t have a policy, as motorists in the Grand Canyon State pay steep fines for being convicted of driving uninsured.

A three-month suspension of license plates and registration along with at least a $500 fine comes with the first offense of driving uninsured. Another offense within three years doubles the suspension period, and the size of the fine increases to at least $750. A third offense raises the minimum fine to $1,000 with a year-long suspension of license plates and registration.


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