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Official Softens Stance on Uninsured Motorists

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a departure from his previous hard-line position, state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush has decided to support a lowering of fines for some violations of the state’s mandatory auto insurance law.

Quackenbush wrote to the author of the legislation to lower the fines, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), that he would approve reducing the fines when motorists buy insurance between the time they are cited for not having it and the time they show up in court.

However, the insurance commissioner said he remains opposed to reducing the mandatory $1,350 first-time penalty in cases where the alleged violators do not show proof of having insurance when they appear before a judge.

Last week, the state’s Judicial Council, the policymaking arm of the California court system, reported to the Legislature that many judges were refusing to implement the full fine called for in the law enacted two years ago.

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Quackenbush stressed in his letter to Cedillo that he remains a strong adherent of mandatory insurance.

“While we understand that cost may be among the factors that lead drivers of limited means to break the law and drive uninsured, we are working towards reducing the cost of insurance for everyone,” he wrote.

“It is not fair to those who buy insurance to turn a blind eye to drivers without coverage and incapable of paying for the harm they cause others.”

However, the commissioner said, he does “not disagree that judges may be provided with some discretion to lessen the fines for first-time violators--for good cause and provided the driver [has] purchased insurance.”

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The current version of the mandatory insurance law was authored by then-Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame), whose husband was killed in an accident with an uninsured motorist.

The Speier bill sharply increased fines and directed police to require proof of insurance whenever they stop a driver for a traffic offense, and the Department of Motor Vehicles to withhold registration of vehicles without such proof.


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