Group pushes uninsured motorist tracking


HILO — There’s no indication it will help – and it’s likely to add to the cost of registering a motor vehicle in Hawaii — but a task force on uninsured motorists is nonetheless recommending the state create an online database to track who is carrying required insurance and who is not.

Approximately 11 percent of Hawaii drivers do not have insurance, according to a report released this week by the Insurance Verification Working Group, a task force created by the 2012 Legislature to look into a web-based tracking program.

“According to insurance industry data, there is no significant difference between the uninsured motorist rates of states that have insurance verification programs (about 33 states) and those that do not,” the task force report says. “(Property Casualty Insurers Association of America) recommended that states do not adopt electronic verification programs, as there are simpler and less costly alternative approaches to addressing the uninsured motorist problem.”

The additional fee to register a vehicle could be as low as $1, but it comes on the heels of a hefty increase in the annual registration fee and weight tax. In 2011, the Legislature increased the vehicle registration fee from $25 to $45 and more than doubled the weight tax for cars from 75 cents per pound to $1.75 per pound, with taxes for larger vehicles going up in a similar manner.

Despite the lack of proof it will help, the working group, “after much discussion and deliberation,” is recommending the state establish a web-based program to track uninsured motorists by putting out a request for proposals from private-sector vendors, with a planned implementation date of Jan. 1, 2015.

Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito said Friday the project, if it goes forward, would probably cost about $1 million annually. He said the state would look for the vendor to set up the database without an additional charge.

Ito defended the project, saying even though the insurance company trade group PCI found no reduction in uninsured motorists, vendors making presentations to the group claimed otherwise.

“It was the opinion of one group that said it didn’t have an impact, but other presenters showed there was an impact,” Ito said.

The working group also recommends changing state law to remove a judge’s discretion to waive fines when defendants show proof of insurance. Judges would still have discretionary authority to grant community service hours instead of a fine, however.

In the past 5 1/2 years, Hawaii County has issued 34,221 citations for driving without insurance, compared to 167,221 on Oahu, 23,223 on Maui and 7,116 on Kauai. Some $25.5 million in fees and fines were collected over that period statewide. Under current law, motorists can be fined from $100 to $5,000 for driving without insurance.

The City and County of Honolulu, which has lobbied for creating the database, has the lowest conviction rate in the state, with only 17.3 percent of citations ending in convictions. Hawaii County has the highest rate, with 54.1 percent, followed by Kauai, with 48.9 percent, and Maui, with 37.3 percent.