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Will Mississippi crack down on uninsured drivers?

Mary Lou Jay

Mississippi has the second highest rate of uninsured motorists in the United States, according to a study by the Insurance Research Council. Although state law does require motorists to purchase auto insurance, 28 percent of Mississippi drivers don’t carry the required coverage.

Two pieces of legislation aimed at lowering the state’s uninsured motorist rate were shot down in 2011. A bill that passed the Mississippi Senate in February 2011 would have require motorists to show proof that they’d purchased at least six months’ coverage before they could get license tags for a car. That bill died in March 2011. Another bill, which aimed to create a statewide insurance verification database, was passed by both the House and the Senate — only to be vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour, who cited concerns about the costs of such a database.

Mississippi insurance law requires drivers to carry at least $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per person for a single accident, $50,000 total in bodily injury liability coverage per accident and $25,000 per accident for property damage. Drivers also have the option of posting a bond or making a cash deposit equivalent to these limits, but few take that option.

While some states also require drivers to show an insurance card upon registering a car, Mississippi does not. Current Mississippi law does require drivers to carry a card in their vehicles that includes the name of their automobile insurance company; the name of the insurance agent; a customer service phone number; the policy effective dates; and the year, make, model and vehicle identification number for the car, according to the Mississippi Insurance Department.

Current law also requires those who are pulled over for a violation to produce the card for the officer. Failure to carry insurance (and the insurance card) can result in fines of up to $1,000 or suspension of driving privileges (for up to a year) until the car’s owner shows proof of the proper insurance, according to the Mississippi Insurance Department.

If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, it could be a costly collision. Several states have no-fault insurance laws; that means your own auto insurance policy will usually pay if you’re in an accident with an uninsured motorist. Some states also require drivers to carry uninsured motorist insurance to provide financial protection in this scenario. But even with no-fault laws and uninsured motorist coverage, you could end up paying out of your own pocket for many accident-related expenses, including policy deductibles and car rental costs.

Mississippi is not alone in its problems with uninsured drivers. Although most states require some form of auto insurance, the Insurance Research Council found 14 percent of U.S. drivers did not have auto insurance in 2009. After Mississippi, the states with the highest percentages of uninsured drivers were New Mexico (26 percent), Tennessee (24 percent), Oklahoma (24 percent) and Florida (24 percent).

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