By Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News
DEARBORN Lawmakers are moving to crack down on Michigan's
uninsured drivers after a Detroit News report revealed that
as many as 1.1 million of them are driving up premiums and
medical costs while the state has done little to track them.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm will work with Michigan's Secretary
of State to upgrade the state's computer system, which is
currently incapable of tracking uninsured motorists, Deputy
Press Secretary Mary Dettloff said Tuesday. At least 32 states
have developed ways to verify that drivers have insurance.
And state Rep. Gary Woronchak, R-Dearborn, unveiled legislation
Tuesday that would double the fines motorists pay for insurance
violations. Michigan motorists pay a $200 to $500 fine if
they're caught without insurance, far less than the cost of
most insurance premiums.
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land already has met with Michigan
law enforcement agencies to find ways to share information
about drivers' insurance status, Dettloff said.
"Their (computer) system just isn't nimble enough to
do the kind of tracking and information sharing with law enforcement
that needs to be done, so we're looking to see if there's
a way we can upgrade the technology in Secretary of State
offices," Dettloff said.
"We're obviously dealing with a very tight budget, but
we'll do what we can to address their technology needs."
Woronchak said uninsured motorists could be fined from $400
to $1,000 under a bill he plans to introduce in the Legislature
next week. He said the bill is in response The News' report
that drivers who are insured pick up the tens of million of
dollars in costs associated with accidents involving uninsured
The News, in its report Sunday, found that prices for insurance
are highest in Detroit's inner-city neighborhoods, where as
many as 59 percent of motorists lack auto coverage. The average
premium increased nearly 15 percent last year in southwest
Detroit, compared with 9 percent in Warren.
Insured drivers in the state paid $65 million in surcharges
just to cover the medical bills of passengers in uninsured
cars in 2001, up from $45 million in 1998. The actual cost
of Michigan's uninsured drivers is much higher, because medical
bills for the drivers themselves often are picked up by other
insurance programs and hospitals, which ultimately pass along
the costs to their customers.
"The penalties are so low that people are willing to
risk paying them because it's so much cheaper than buying
insurance," Woronchak said. "Maybe raising the penalties
will encourage people to do what's right.
"The threat of that hanging over people's heads might
just encourage them to go and get the insurance."
Rep. Ken Daniels, D-Detroit, agrees that more should be done
to enforce Michigan's mandatory insurance law, but he said
people will continue to drive without insurance until the
state does something to bring down the cost of premiums. Daniels
is among state Democrats who have introduced a package of
bills to stop what they describe as redlining and price gouging
by auto and home insurance companies.
The term "redlining" was coined for the once-common
practice of denying insurance to distinct classes of customers.
It is now illegal for companies to refuse customers based
on race or ethnicity.
"Everybody should be covered, but insurance companies
have to make it more affordable," Daniels said. "If
Detroiters enjoyed the same rates as our suburban counterparts,
you'd see more folks with insurance.
Rep. Larry Julian, R-Lennon, chair of the House Insurance
Committee, wouldn't comment on how Woronchak's bill would
fare with state lawmakers until he's had a chance to review
the specifics. But he said something needs to be done to enforce
Michigan's no-fault insurance law.
"We have to get a message to these people. If the penalties
are stiff enough, than maybe people will say it's cheaper
to get insurance," Julian said. "People are only
hurting themselves by not insuring themselves."