At the Church Wyle, P.C. office, we routinely receive phone calls of people who were injured in a hit-and-run accident or by an uninsured or underinsured driver. This brings up the obvious point that when a driver refuses or is unable to carry motor vehicle insurance, that driver puts both himself and other drivers at risk. If the driver injures someone else, they obviously won’t have the insurance coverage to pay for the damages. Injured parties, however, are covered by their own insurance policies. Moreover, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects accident victims that are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver. In Michigan, an estimated 1/5 of drivers are uninsured. Luckily, in 2003 Governor Jennifer Granholm persuaded lawmakers to impose additional penalties on uninsured motorists. These penalties are called “driver responsibility fees”. Specifically, driving without proof of insurance will cost you $200 for each offense.
In 2007 alone, there were an estimated quarter of a million uninsured offenses. While similar programs exist in other states, Michigan’s driver responsibility program has received harsh criticism. Opponents’ claims are very similar to what Rick Shapiro and Pierce Egerton mentioned in their posts Uninsured Motorist Car Insurance: It’s Your Most Important Car Insurance and Here is Why and Uninsured Drivers: Who Are These People?, respectively. For example, opponents claim that the fee for driving without insurance punishes those who can least afford it, and can be a crushing blow to low-income families. But as Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land so aptly states: “driving is a privilege and not a right”. If laws and subsequent financial penalties didn’t exist, who would protect those injured by underinsured or uninsured drivers?
I also found it very alarming that uninsured drivers are ten times more likely to have DWI convictions and are six times more likely to have convictions for driving unsafe vehicles. Thanks for that information, Pierce. That provides even more evidence that the driver responsibility fee program is a good idea, since it also punishes drunk drivers: $1000 for each offense. Thanks to Wayne Parsons piece, I learned that innocent people are sometimes the victim of a drunk driver more than once. Victims are then left with devastating physical injuries and the enormous financial strain that medical bill impose.
In the years I’ve practiced I have talked to a number of people who were injured as a result of an uninsured driver. One that comes to mind involved a drunk driver and the passenger. They were out together at a party and the one friend decided she was fine to drive despite the amount of alcohol she had drank that night. The passenger, who was not able to drive himself, trusted the driver at her word that she was able to drive safely. Maybe this was not the smartest decision, but that’s what happened. The next thing the passenger knows, the car is going striaght through a curve in the road and runs into a tree head on. He is banged up pretty bad, injured his shoulder among other things. The driver, unfortunately, didn’t have insurance. Thankfully, the passenger had uninsured motorist coverage on his car and was able to assert a claim to potentially compensate him for his injuries, pain, and suffering. This does not mean he will actually recover for his injuries, but at the very least he can make a claim and had some options.
Before you drive away on your Labor Day vacation, make sure to protect yourself and your family by maintaining adequate insurance. You should also ask about underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage, which can help protect you and cover medical costs and other bills when you are hit by one of these drivers.
Please continue to follow the interstate safety series. We’ve obviously had a few other attorneys join the discussion. Here are other posts in the ongoing series:
The Interstate Highway Graveyard, “Speed Kills”—Steve Lombardi
Uninsured Motorists: Who Are These People?—Pierce Egerton