To register a car in Rhode Island, proof of an automobile-liability-insurance policy is mandatory, but the R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles admits it doesn’t regularly check to see if the policy you say you have actually exists.
As a result, some drivers cheat the system. An estimated 18 percent of Rhode Island motorists are driving without insurance, the ninth-highest percentage in the country and worst in New England, according to the Insurance Research Council, a property-and-casualty-insurance industry group. Those uninsured motorists, using area roads and getting into accidents without buying policies, effectively raise premiums for everyone else.
Even after major efforts to improve the Rhode Island DMV in recent years, the agency is constrained by antiquated systems and insufficient resources. To enforce the insurance laws on the books, the DMV relies on what has been described as a cubby system where paper inquiries are filed for insurance companies to periodically pick up.
So for the second straight year, state lawmakers are working on ways to strengthen the system and crack down on auto-insurance scofflaws.
Seven bills have been filed in the House this year addressing uninsured motorists, with two of them proposing the creation of comprehensive third-party-run databases for matching registrations and policies.
“The situation in Rhode Island is pretty bad,” said Frank O’Brien, the Boston-based vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, which represents the nation’s large automobile-insurance companies, including Lincoln-based Amica Mutual Insurance Co.
“To their credit, Rhode Island DMV knows it is not efficient and it is working with us and the insurance industry to develop mechanisms to make this more efficient, cost-effective and enforceable,” O’Brien said.
But while there is a growing consensus that the state needs to address its insurance-verification system, there is disagreement about what the best solution is.
The two proposed insurance database bills would require the DMV to hire a third-party vendor to function as an intermediary between the state and insurance companies.
Of those two, a bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen R. Ucci, D-Johnston, is the most aggressive and controversial.
Known as the “InsureNet bill,” for the Georgia-based vendor that promotes it, Ucci’s bill would create a statewide vehicle-surveillance system of cameras mounted on lightpoles, police cruisers, bridges and other areas with good vantage points to scan roads.