License and Insurance!
You’re driving down the road and without warning, your rearview mirror illuminates with the red and blue lights of a police car.
As the officer approaches your car, you pull out your driver’s license and continue to fumble through your glove box for your insurance card. Suddenly, you remember that your insurance just renewed and you don’t have the new card in your car.
Proof of Insurance
In Texas, as a condition to driving a motor vehicle, you must establish financial responsibility for your vehicle. This is usually under a commercial insurance provider, but can also be through a surety bond, a deposit with the comptroller, or self-insurance.
Also you must carry evidence of this financial responsibility. Upon the request of a peace officer, or a person involved in an accident, you must show this evidence.
If you fail to have this evidence with you then you are “presumed to have operated the vehicle in violation” of the law that requires you to have it.
Check Your Database, Officer
As you can imagine, there is a database for just about everything, insurance included. There is a database established under the Texas Department of Insurance, called TexasSure, which keeps track of who has insurance and who doesn’t. Most likely, the officer knows if your vehicle is insured before he even gets out of his patrol car.
The same law that presumes that you do not have insurance unless you provide proof also states that it does not apply “if the peace officer determines through use of the verification program…that financial responsibility has been established for the vehicle.”
In essence, if the officer reviews the insurance database, and sees that you have valid insurance, then he is not allowed to presume that you have operated the vehicle in violation of the law requiring you to have it.
There are penalties for operating a motor vehicle without financial responsibility; $175-$300 fine for first offense, $350-$1,000 fine for second offense. Also, the Driver Responsibility Program can suspend your license and assess further surcharges against you that can be even higher than the ticket. But, you have a defense to prosecution if you show proof that you had insurance at the time of the offense to the Court.
*OPINION WARNING* If you will notice, the law provides a penalty for operating a vehicle without financial responsibility, and you are presumed to have committed that offense for failure to have proof of it; but that presumption is removed if the officer sees that you have insurance in the database. Because the law does not set out a punishment specifically for “failure to provide proof of insurance,” I argue that the officer has no authority to issue that ticket and if he does, then he has misapplied the law. Too bad no one has argued this to an appellate court yet…
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Criminal Law Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479