COLUMBIA - The familiar police refrain, "license and registration, please" now has a new ring to it in South Carolina.
Drivers now also must prove they have auto insurance or face fines or imprisonment under a sweeping insurance bill signed into law by Gov. David Beasley.
Most of the law, which completely changes the state's insurance structure in an attempt to lower rates, takes effect in 1999. But the provision requiring immediate insurance proof went into effect the second Mr. Beasley signed the bill July 3, said Rep. Harry Cato, R-Travelers Rest.
"After all, we have compulsory insurance right now," said Mr. Cato, one of the architects of the insurance changes. "People should be able to prove that they have insurance right now as well."
Despite the mandatory-insurance law, the Legislative Audit Council has said there may be as many as 450,000 uninsured vehicles on South Carolina roads. The council said earlier this year that uninsured motorists are one of the biggest problems with South Carolina's insurance system.
Highway Patrol troopers will wait a bit, probably three months or a little less, before starting to write tickets to those who lack proof of insurance, said Eddie Gunn, interim Public Safety Department director.
Mr. Gunn said he understands that some people may not have the required insurance card yet.
"I know, personally, my company doesn't even provide me with one," he said. "They don't give me a wallet-sized card that says `I have insurance."'
Get a ticket and don't have an insurance card, and you will have a month to get your insurance company to verify you're covered.
After a month, your license will be suspended until you get that insurance proof. If that happens, you must produce that proof every three months for a year or your license will be suspended again.
There's also a possible $100 fine or 30 days in jail for not having proof of insurance.
"You better have insurance when you're driving a car on the road," Mr. Gunn said. "You either have it or you don't. If you don't have it, it's a violation."
The other Southern states that require proof of insurance are Georgia, Florida and Kentucky.
Other states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Ohio joins the list next year.
Mr. Gunn said the Highway Patrol also will begin to randomly issue auto insurance verification forms during its estimated 1,200 traffic stops a day. Also under consideration is paying local sheriff's and police departments to confiscate license plates and registrations of people who don't have insurance.
"We realized that the compliance with the insurance laws is not what it should be," Mr. Gunn said. "We're looking to step up our efforts to make sure everyone obeys the law."
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