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People in line to register vehicles at the Morgan County Courthouse this week.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
People in line to register vehicles at the Morgan County Courthouse this week.

Little help stopping uninsured motorists
No insurance, no problem
State laws only require proof of ownership to register vehicle

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

As Decatur councilmen grapple with a proposed ordinance to stiffen penalties against unlicensed drivers, it appears state law does even less than they thought to stop unlicensed and uninsured motorists.

In an impromptu discussion Monday, councilmen argued over whether state law requires motorists to display a valid license and proof of insurance to register a vehicle.

The Daily found the laws do not specifically require owners provide anything other than a title of ownership when registering a vehicle.

An identification and proof of insurance are not required to get a title in Alabama.

"That does not surprise me at all," said District 3 Councilman Gary Hammon, who is sponsoring the proposed ordinance. "Right now, if we pull someone over, and they don't have a license, all we can do is write them a ticket and send them on their merry way."

Loopholes

In the case of minimum liability insurance, which is required by state law, vehicle owners registering a car are asked if they carry a policy, but they do not have to provide proof.

Instead, when the owner signs his or her registration slip, they are also signing an affidavit swearing they carry an insurance policy required by Alabama law.

"When the bill was first written, I think there was language in there that required actual proof," said Carla Snellgrove, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Revenue Department. "But with the Internet, so many counties are offering online registration it would be a hindrance to that."

As to identification, state law requires vehicle owners have either a valid driver license or state-issued identification card to register a vehicle. But the law does not require vehicle owners to provide either identification.

Instead, they can tell the registration clerk their license or ID number. But clerks have no way to cross-reference the provided number to see if it's valid. Owners can also claim they are moving to Alabama from another state, which would exempt them from providing a number.

Enforcement measures

To prevent owners from lying on their registration forms, the state offers some enforcement measures, Snellgrove said.

The Revenue Department randomly mails requests for proof of insurance to vehicle owners across the state.

If the vehicle owner cannot prove he has liability insurance, his registration is suspended. The owner must pay a $100 fee and show proof of insurance to reinstate his registration.

The state requested proof of insurance for 195,028 vehicles during fiscal year 2007, according to Revenue Department records. That compared to more than 4.5 million vehicles registered statewide.

Of the requests, 100,349 resulted in registration suspension, either because the owner ignored the request despite having insurance, or because he or she could not provide proof.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety and other law-enforcement agencies also check for proof of insurance and a valid license during routine traffic stops.

During the same time period, 65,048 motorists were convicted for driving without insurance statewide. Records were not available to show how many were convicted for driving without a license.

Legislation

As Gary Hammon pushes for a stronger ordinance in Decatur, his cousin, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said he is doing the same for a statewide bill.

Micky Hammon said he has been working on legislation that would increase the identification and insurance requirements for registering a vehicle in Alabama.

He also said he wants a bill allowing law-enforcement officers to impound uninsured vehicles.

"We have the votes to pass them," Hammon said. "But the chairman of the Rules Committee has a lot of power, and basically, we have not been able to get any of these bills through the Rules Committee and placed on the calendar for a vote."

House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the Rules Committee, did not respond to calls to his Montgomery office or his Crane Hill office.

E-mails sent to addresses listed on the Legislature's Web site were returned as "undeliverable."

While Hammon's legislation would deal with motor vehicle licensing and insurance requirements, he said the bill is targeted at illegal immigration.

The bill would ensure government services, including vehicle registration or even a business license are not provided to illegal immigrants, Hammon said.

"I think, this year, if the public gets involved and everyone contacts their legislators, there will be more pressure placed on the leadership to bring these bills up for a vote," he said.

Decatur ordinance

The Decatur City Council is expected to consider Dec. 3 an ordinance that would let police impound vehicles driven by unlicensed motorists.

Originally, Hammon and Mayor Don Kyle proposed an ordinance that would also allow police to impound uninsured vehicles, but they announced recently that state law does not allow it.

Kyle has publicly denied the ordinance is designed to target illegal immigrants, saying it is designed only to target lawbreakers.

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