Welcome news this morning as I was reading the Turn to 10 webpage. It appears that RI Lawmakers have put in place mechanisms to check and ensure that Rhode Island drivers have active automobile insurance coverage. Failure to maintain active auto insurance can result in suspension of your driver's license. A link to the story can be found here.
This is certainly welcome news since 1 in 5 vehicles on the road in Rhode Island is currently uninsured. Every week I have to give the extremely upsetting news to a car accident client that the at fault driver did not have auto insurance at the time of the accident. That means that despite thousands of dollars in vehicle damage and serious bodily injury, the at fault driver will not be able to compensate the victim. Luckily, on many occasions my clients have uninsured motorist coverage on their policy and they are able to receive compensation through their own insurance company. Many clients, however, do not have this coverage and are out of luck.
Theoretically, you can sue the at fault driver for damages with or without insurance. Unfortunately, this is a time consuming and complex process. There are also quite a few costs associated with a lawsuit. Drivers who do not possess auto insurance on their vehicle are also very unlikely to have any money or assets since a person of wealth would never risk driving their vehicle without insurance. So, you have a time consuming and complex lawsuit against a defendant with no money. That is why a personal injury attorney is unlikely to help you if there is no insurance.
One thing you can do to avoid being in this position is to call your insurance company or agent and make certain that you have uninsured motorist on your policy for BOTH property damage and personal injury. You may be very surprised to see that this can cost as little as $100/year. While uninsured motorist is not required by law in the State of Rhode Island, an extra $100/year might just save you tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid property damage, medical bills and lost wages.
That said, it is good to see Rhode Island taking proactive steps to reduce the number of uninsured motorists on the road. Other states also have similar programs. In some states the insurance company is required to notify the DMV when a policy is cancelled, not renewed, etc. The DMV will investigate and if the person does not have a policy with a different company, the license will be suspended.
License suspension is a much more serious harm than the $500 fine currently given to those in Rhode Island caught driving without insurance. If you are caught driving on a suspended license, you will be arrested! It is a misdemeanor. Furthermore, Rhode Island does not have any hardship provision for license suspensions. It does not matter to a Judge in RI if you have four kids and drive 100 miles a day to work. No matter what, your license will remain suspended. The threat of a night in jail and criminal record is much more scary than a fine and I hope it will be enough to encourage more people to drive with proper auto insurance on their vehicle.
We should continue to encourage our lawmakers to push for better laws and stricter punishments against uninsured drivers. Their negligence can destroy lives without the means to help put the pieces back together.