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New law begins Monday: Drivers must carry proof of insurance

Beginning Jan. 1, Mississippi law will require all drivers to maintain a liability insurance card in their vehicles at all times. The penalty for failure to comply is a fine of $1,000 and suspension of driving privileges for one year. (The Vicksburg Post photo illustration/MELANIE DUNCAN)

Mississippi motorists have less than a week to be prepared to show proof of liability insurance or face fines of up to $1,000.

In an effort to encourage more drivers to be responsible for damage they cause, legislators this year passed a bill that requires all motorists to carry proof of insurance beginning Jan. 1.

Failing to carry the information at all times can also result in suspension of driving privileges for a year.

Where other states have experienced an onslaught of policy-seekers after enacting insurance-related statutes, Mississippi has not.

“I’m thinking it may not be a large rush here at the end of the year,” said Susan Loflin. “But, it will be busy after the first.”

Loflin, an agent at Vicksburg Insurance Agency, said time is running short for people to buy policies before the deadline. “The problem is if they wait until the last minute, we may not be able to insure them,” she said.

She said some of those companies may stop issuing new policies if there is a sudden run for new coverage.

With the law, Mississippi joins 47 other states that have some form of mandatory liability insurance law. Minimum coverage under the state law is $10,000 per person, $20,000 for bodily injury and $5,000 for property damages.

The new state statute replaces one that created the possibility of fines for drivers who were not covered at the time of a wreck. That statute was largely ignored, and even the new statute says fines can be waived if a driver who gets a ticket later buys a policy.

In other ways, many are saying the new law may not be tough enough as well.

“In today’s era of ever-rising medical costs and auto repair bills, the state-mandated minimum may not be sufficient,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale. “It is a good idea to consider purchasing liability coverage with higher limits.”

Because of the wording of the law, most insurance companies have been providing two “proof of insurance cards” per vehicle on a policy one for the wallet or purse and another for the glove compartment.

The reason is that the law requires every motor vehicle to have an insurance card in it and every driver to possess a card. In other words, drivers of friends’ or relatives’ cars or rental cars are responsible for showing an insurance card, as they would be a license to drive, regardless of who owns the vehicle.

The cards can be requested during traffic stops and at checkpoints, but no law enforcement official can stop a motorist just to check for insurance.

Liability insurance costs vary from company to company and are based on the age, gender and driving history. A 30-year-old who has not had insurance in 90 days and has no prior poor-driving history can purchase the minimum coverage for $500 per year, but Loflin warned other factors, including credit history, can be a factor.

It’s estimated that 133,000 Mississippians drive without licenses, and a license is required to qualify for insurance.

Under the statute, it’s better just not to provide “proof” than show a fake card. Fraudulent use of an insurance card carries a penalty of $10,000 and a five-year jail term.