Legislature votes to put more teeth into state law mandating auto insurance

Some 40 years after Tennessee’s mandatory auto-insurance provision became law, a bill now headed to Gov. Bill Haslam will finally provide a way to putt teeth into enforcement of the requirement, reports the Times-Free Press.

Senators today voted 26-1 to approve the “James Lee Atwood Jr. Law,” which would create a computer system that Tennessee’s 95 county clerks would use to check on insurance requirements before issuing vehicle registrations.

“This is something I’ve taken to heart for a long, long time, and hopefully we won’t have too many Mr. Atwoods,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro of the 30-year-old man who was killed last year by an uninsured driver who had been previously stopped by police.

“After 40 years of laws on the books,” Ketron said, “we are taking a major step.”

Note: The bill, HB606, passed the House 63-25 after substantial debate. People will be checked through the new system to see they have insurance before they can get their license plate renewed each year and, if no insurance, no renewal. With no license renewal, such people are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement officers who can issue a ticket — and have the car towed. Despite the cost of implementation, it has a positive fiscal note — about $4.4 million for the state in the first year. That’s in part because the bill also raises the fine for not having insurance from $100 to $300 and in part because it’s anticipated to increase the number of Tennesseans who buy auto insurance (now more than one in five drivers are said to go without it), thus increasing the state’s take from the insurance premium tax (2.5 percent).