Tropico Perspective: Backward insurance

Glendale News Press

I haven't had to think about car insurance in a long time. I probably thought more about it 30 years ago when I would occasionally do without, trying to balance a heavy student loan with a light checkbook. With age and a little security comes the desire to protect it, and now I have a lot of it.

Since car insurance is mandatory most everywhere and I have been lucky enough to stay out of trouble, it became little more than another check I write every month — the kind of things grown-ups do. Until I got hit by a pickup truck that happened to be looking the other way when exiting a driveway.

I am not the kind of person who gets angry about simple mistakes.

Everybody can make them; it's part of life's rich pageantry. Even though the driver didn't have a driver's license, he did have insurance, and things went pretty smoothly. For about two weeks.

California, with some of the most expensive cars in the country — the state that defined car culture for a nation, the state that embraces the automobile over more sensible forms of transportation to its own peril — has the lowest mandatory insurance requirements.

To be fair, it's tied for the lowest: a staggering $5,000 in coverage. Alaska, with more planes than cars and a heck of a lot farther to drive until you can find another car to slam into, has five times the minimum insurance than we do here, and it costs less.

The retail value of the cars valeted from in front of the Palm in West Hollywood on any Thursday night probably exceeds that of all the cars in Nebraska, yet every one is a sitting duck for a driver who got their insurance policy out a box of cracker jacks.

I try not to vent my own issues. Even though I have been angrier in the last two weeks than I have been this century, there is a good reason to have realistic insurance minimums in this state that are about more than my little problem. Even though I have really good insurance, which also covers those who don't have any, it doesn't do a lot for those who have too little. It isn't right that my insurance should have to pick up the slack for someone else's poor insurance choices.

Higher insurance requirements don't cost more money, but it does shift the burden of coverage from those who have appropriate amounts to those who don't. States with much higher minimum requirements often have much lower rates, and it isn't because they are populated by driving instructors who come to full stops at intersections.

Raising the standards wouldn't make fixing cars more expensive or result in more claims. Unless drivers are running into each other on purpose under the guise of better protection, there won't be an uptick in anything except responsibility.

There might be a reduction in lawsuits, though. If my car got hit anywhere else on the left coast, his insurance coverage would have covered my car without having to use my policy to fill in the gap. It would also mean that my insurance company wouldn't have to sue him for everything over and above what his gum-ball-machine insurance policy doesn't cover, and I wouldn't be out nearly $2,000 in deductibles and rental car expenses.

No lawyers would have to be marshaled, and no courtrooms would have to be taken away from the more important task of putting criminals behind bars.

And the driver who quite accidentally hit my car at a seemingly slow 5 mph, now understanding that his insurance wasn't going to keep him out of trouble, wouldn't have to change his tune and claim it was all my fault.

As angry as I am right now, the real culprit is the law that hasn't kept up with the needs for California drivers. Even Proposition 13 lets the taxes rise in an effort to keep up.

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