According to the national Insurance Research Council, about 11 percent of Montana motorists don't carry car insurance. But that number is expected to drop considerably in the coming year as a new internet-based insurance verification system goes into effect.
The Montana Insurance Verification System, which was created by the 2009 Montana Legislature, will roll out statewide in January. The system will allow Montana law enforcement agencies, the state Motor Vehicle Division and county treasurers to confirm that vehicles have minimum liability insurance, as required by law.
"Uninsured drivers are a serious problem, undermining traffic safety and driving up the costs for insured, law-abiding motorists," states the Montana Department of Justice. "Real-time insurance verification will make the roads safer for everyone."
Before 1995, Montanans were required to show proof of insurance when registering vehicles, but that requirement was dropped, making it easier for motorists to cancel their policies and skirt the law.
Lucas Hamilton, spokesperson for the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, says if the new system has the intended effect, drivers who pay a higher insurance premium for uninsured motorist coverage could drop that portion of their policy. "And that would be a significant savings for a lot of Montanans," he says.
For example, this reporter pays $64 a year for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage for one vehicle. More broadly, Hamilton says, adding more vehicles to the pool of insured drivers should, theoretically, lower premiums for everyone.
The Montana Highway Patrol began testing MTIVS in May, followed by municipal courts in August. The system will cost about $540,000 annually, paid for by a $1.80 license plate fee.
Under Montana law, the penalty for a no-insurance citation runs between $250 and $500, or up to 10 days in jail for a first offense. Repeat offenders face higher fines, possible license revocation and up to six months in prison.