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Will new law help reduce uninsured motorist accidents in Tennessee?

A new law seeks to reduce uninsured driving in Tennessee, where over one-fifth of motorists presently lack legally mandated insurance coverage.

Accidents that involve uninsured motorists often leave victims facing steep expenses that they cannot cover, especially with their injuries or long-term disablement factored in. Unfortunately for drivers in Chattanooga, recent reports indicate that nearly one-quarter of drivers in Tennessee lack auto insurance. According to WMC News, Tennessee currently ranks among the six states in the country with the greatest number of uninsured motorists.

Lawmakers recently have tried to address this issue by strengthening the state’s law against driving without insurance. Safety advocates hope that the new law, which became effective on July 1, will discourage this negligent behavior and reduce the number of accidents involving uninsured drivers.

A prevalent problem

The reported number of uninsured Tennessee drivers has reached troubling levels in recent years. Statewide, nearly one million drivers lack insurance. In Memphis alone, over 46,000 motorists received citations in 2013 for driving without insurance. In 2014, more than one-quarter of the drivers who were cited for the same violation in Memphis also lacked licenses.

Not surprisingly, these drivers contribute to a large number of the car crashes that occur in the state. According to one legislator, 40,000 of the auto accidents reported in 2014 involved uninsured drivers. In some areas, the rate of these accidents may be even higher. For instance, according to one insurance industry professional, as many as 40 percent of auto accident claims in Shelby County involve uninsured drivers.

Inadequate laws

Since 1977, Tennessee drivers have been required to carry legal liability insurance, but until recently, the state’s law may have been too weak to ensure compliance. WMC News notes that the penalty for driving uninsured was previously a $100 fine. This cost, which was significantly less expensive than the price of insurance, might not have adequately deterred uninsured drivers. Additionally, in the past, authorities weren’t permitted to impound the vehicles of motorists who lacked insurance.

A high-profile accident that took place in 2014 illustrates the deadly consequences that these limitations may have had. The fatal car crash occurred when an uninsured motorist crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with another car, killing its driver. The uninsured motorist had been pulled over earlier the same day and cited for driving without proof of insurance. However, since authorities could not arrest the driver or tow his vehicle, he was released and went on to cause the deadly accident.

Stronger sanctions

Authorities hope that the new law will create a greater deterrent against driving uninsured and additionally help keep uninsured drivers off the road. The law makes the following changes:

  • The fine for driving without proof of insurance has increased to $300.
  • Authorities can now tow the vehicles of drivers who are cited under the law.
  • The Tennessee Department of Revenue is tasked with creating a program that will use vehicle registrations to track down uninsured drivers.
  • Drivers who are identified through this program may face tag seizure and registration suspension.

These changes should give drivers greater incentive to purchase insurance or refrain from driving without it. However, the effectiveness of the law remains to be seen.

Unfortunately for innocent motorists, accidents involving uninsured drivers are unlikely to stop entirely, even with this new law. However, accident victims who carry uninsured driver insurance coverage may be able to recover needed compensation by making claims against their own policies. For further information regarding this option, accident victims should consult with an auto accident attorney.