Lawmaker: Arizona should raise car insurance requirements
Matt Smiley was at a stop light on the Val Vista Drive exit ramp on U.S. 60 when another motorist slammed into the back of his BMW and drove off.
Authorities caught the hit-and-run driver and discovered that he did not have insurance.
Fortunately, Smiley had uninsured driver coverage, and the 45-year-old Phoenix resident did not have to pay out of his pocket for the 2007 incident.
However, many other motorists do find themselves paying big bucks when they get into wrecks with uninsured – or underinsured – drivers, no matter who causes the crash.
Arizona is one of 25 states that does not require uninsured driver coverage.
“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Smiley said. “I also think that the minimum coverage that’s required by the state is way too low.”
An estimated 10.6 percent of Arizona drivers don’t have insurance, according to a new study by WalletHub.com, a Washington, D.C.,-based consumer advocacy group. This fact, combined with lenient minimum liability insurance requirements, put Arizona among the most financially risky states for drivers, the study said.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, wants to increase the liability insurance requirements for motorists.
Brophy McGee introduced HB 2172, which would increase liability requirements to $25,000 from $15,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident, to $50,000 from $30,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more people in any one accident and $25,000 from $10,000 for injury to or destruction of others’ property in any one accident.
“That’s definitely better,” Smiley said. “I’m totally in favor of that.”
Smiley, an attorney, added that his parents were killed in a crash, and the other driver had minimum liability insurance.
“For both their lives, that’s what it was worth,” he said of the $15,000 liability requirement for each life.
It’s been decades since Arizona updated minimum insurance requirements, Brophy McGee said.
“I understand that it will increase people’s costs, but people who don’t do any wrong are being creamed out there,” she added. “Cars are wrecked, and they don’t have sufficient funds to cover all the damages.”
The WalletHub study said insured drivers may not have enough to cover potential damages because Arizona does not require additional coverage – like medical coverage or personal injury protection. This makes it more difficult for drivers to protect their finances after an accident, according to WalletHub.
Arizona, Colorado and Louisiana tied for 39 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia as a financially risky place for motorists in the study, released earlier this month. WalletHub looked at the percentage of uninsured drivers, liability requirements to protect others and other forms of insurance to protect the policyholder.
WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez said if the state adopts Brophy McGee’s bill as law, it would put Arizona at least on par with most other states. Only four states have lower liability insurance requirements than Arizona.
“In a state like Maine where coverage is very strict, it’s safer for drivers,” Gonzalez said.
The bill does have its share of critics.
Motorist Vanessa Hernandez, 23, of Scottsdale, said it’s not fair to charge drivers more for insurance.
“I think if someone doesn’t have insurance, then you should be able to take them to court, and they should be liable for the damage they cost you,” said Hernandez, who works at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“It’s basically punishing the people who are paying for insurance because of the people who are not paying for insurance.”
Brophy McGee said she doesn’t yet have consensus on the bill. And at this point, she’s “not convinced it will be passed.”
“I’m hoping to address those concerns and reach a middle ground to update an important law,” she said.
Brophy McGee said she believes increasing insurance would translate to lower rates in the long run by making Arizona a safer place to drive.