How to protect yourself from uninsured motorists

Every year, thousands of Missouri residents are involved in accidents with uninsured motorists, and that number is on the rise.

According to the Missouri Department of Revenue, from July 2010 until July 2011, Missourians were involved in more than 6,000 accidents with uninsured motorists.

On top of that, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported that in 2010, it issued more than 22,000 citations to drivers who could not provide proof of automobile insurance, which is required by law.

Troopers said those tickets can be pretty costly. Depending on the number of times the driver is convicted, they could have their license suspended, or revoked, and have to pay reinstatement fees, along with still having to purchase an automobile insurance policy.

"In a time of economic depression that we're going through, many people feel that's just something that they don't need," said Sergeant Brent Bernhardt of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

"But, I'm here to tell you that having insurance is a big protection for each and every one of us. Certainly, insurance is something that we never want to use but it's there when we need it."

Most people are aware that they need to have automobile insurance if they don't want to break the law. But, insurance agents say many people don't understand the policies, or what coverage they need in order to protect themselves when involved in an accident, especially if the other person is uninsured.

"Insurance is hard to understand and you don't know exactly what you have until the time you need it," said Kelly Dawson, an insurance agent at Missouri Farm Bureau. "A lot of times, people don't have what they need or as much as what they need."

Missouri has a Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, which requires drivers to have liability and property damage automobile insurance. The minimum policy limits that the state requires is a maximum of $25,000 per bodily injury, and up to $50,000 per accident.. They also require that the policy includes up to $10,000 of coverage to pay for any property damage. Also, the state requires that drivers carry a minimum of a $25,000 limit to pay for accidents involving uninsured drivers.

But, automobile insurance agents say that the state requirements are actually no where near enough and would make a driver underinsured.

"Underinsured is if you are in an accident with somebody who has let's say the state bare minimum limits. They are underinsured," said Dawson. "They do not have enough insurance to pay for your bodily injury."

Dawson said drivers can purchase underinsured automobile insurance for as little as $20 a year, which would come into play if involved in an accident and the driver at fault was underinsured. She also shared a few other facts that she said people should consider when purchasing an automobile insurance policy. They include:

  1. It costs less money to have a higher deductible however, it will then cost more out of pocket if the driver is involved in an accident.
  2. Liability and property damage is the most affordable part of an auto insurance policy. The more expensive part is compensation and collision.
  3. If you have a loan against your vehicle, the bank requires you to carry full coverage.
  4. When an insurance company considers your premium, it looks at the age of drivers listed on the policy, along with the type of vehicle's they're driving. It also considers the number of accidents and traffic tickets the drivers listed on the policy have had within six months or a year.

Dawson said that, "most insurance companies look to see how many accidents you have had over six months. Within a year, if you have too many claims, all of a sudden, then that's when your rates go up or you're asked to raise your deductibles."

She also told KTVO that people who do not own a car but borrow someone else's are required to obtain an automobile liability insurance policy.

"If you have a car and it's breaks down, well 90% of the time what do people do? They'll call and cancel their insurance, " said Dawson. "Well, if I borrow someone's vehicle, and I called and cancelled my insurance, then I have no coverage for liability. So I would need a non-owned auto policy."

While researching for this report, we also learned of some scams people do in order to beat the system.

"I get a policy that's good for six months. But, I only pay a month of it. Well that policy will lapse because I didn't keep continuing to pay monthly like I should've. But I still have an insurance card that's good for six months, " said Dawson.

Dawson said this practice is a serious problem because there's no way to enforce it. She said that law enforcement only looks for proof of insurance for the vehicle. That means that if a person is stopped, they look to see if the driver has a valid insurance card for the vehicle. But, they do not check if the driver has kept up on the payments for that policy. According to Dawson, if that person were involved in an accident, although they have proof of insurance, they actually do not have a functioning insurance policy because they have not kept up on their payments.

Sergeant Bernhardt said the state is working to combat this practice.

"Some people say well, what would happen if they were able to get that license or registration and then go cancel their insurance policy. Well, a check and balance to that is the Missouri Department of Revenue then does random sampling throughout the state to insure that people do in fact have that and maintain that required insurance."

The moral of the story is that driving without automobile insurance is costly for all of us. If you're concerned about the costs, the state minimum liability and property damager coverage can cost as little as $15 per month.