Houston has a major problem: 25% of cars in Harris County are uninsured

If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident with another driver, once the adrenaline wears off and the dust begins to settle your first worry probably is: “Does the other driver have insurance?”  That is a very serious concern in the State of Texas, where recent estimates are that of the 20 million vehicles in Texas, roughly 22 percent are uninsured (even though the penalties for driving without insurance can be harsh).  That means on a state-wide level you have a 1 in 5 chance of being in a collision with an uninsured driver! TexasSure is the State of Texas‘ vehicle insurance verification program and was created by the Texas Departments of Insurance, Public Safety, Motor Vehicles and Information Resources as a system to help reduce the number of uninsured motorists.

These agencies have created a database that links every vehicle registered in Texas by its license plate, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and liability insurance policy. Law enforcement officers can access the database, including at the scene of a car accident by using the computer in their police cruisers, to verify the insurance status of any registered vehicle. Put another way: the police can check at the scene of a collision to see if the drivers involved have valid liability insurance.

The number of uninsured vehicles varies by Texas county.  The TexasSure web site publishes statistics on the number of registered vehicles that are not matched to a liability insurance policy in each county. As of the date of this blog post (02-03-2011) the most recent uninsured motorist statistics were released on 12/06/2010. Harris County, which encompasses the City of Houston, has 2,775,042 registered vehicles, of which 672,384 are not matched to liability insurance, meaning 24.23% of registered vehicles in Harris County are uninsured. That’s a scary, scary statistic! In Montgomery County the percentage is lower at 17.74% uninsured. In Galveston County, 18.52% are uninsured. In Fort Bend County, 16.98% are uninsured.

What you can do to protect yourself from the cost of the damage and injuries caused by uninsured drivers: Obviously the fairest solution of all would be for everyone driving on Texas roads to be responsible and carry the automobile liability insurance Texas law requires.  Unfortunately and despite the best efforts of law enforcement, that isn’t about to happen any time soon.  There is something that you can do TODAY to ensure you are protected from the damage that an uninsured motorist can cause in a car accident, including damage to your vehicle, lost wages and medical bills. Check your own automobile insurance policy to see if you have either of two types of coverage: Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Uninsured Motorist coverage (UM). Personal Injury Protection is a no-fault (it doesn’t matter whose fault the car accident was) benefit that can cover medical bills and lost wages. The minimum PIP coverage is $2,500, the next step up is $5,000 and the next step up is $10,000 (and some people carry more than that). PIP is not very expensive to add to your policy.

Uninsured motorist (or “UM“) coverage allows your own insurance company to “stand in the shoes” of the uninsured motorist who caused the accident. Your insurance carrier will evaluate your injury claim just as if they insured the other driver, and will make a settlement offer based on your medical bills, lost wages, injuries, physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement, anticipated future medical costs and other factors that should go into evaluating an injury claim. The minimum UM coverage you will have on your policy is $30,000 (if you have UM).

Smith & Hassler has all too often seen the financially devastating consequence of car accidents and personal injury (and even death) where an uninsured motorist causes a car accident, and the victim of the car accident does not have PIP or UM. Smith & Hassler strongly recommends that EVERYONE check their automobile insurance policy or speak to their insurance agent to find out if they have PIP or UM coverage. If not, we absolutely recommend that in the City of Houston, in a county with almost 25% OF DRIVERS UNINSURED you take out UM and PIP coverage to protect you and your family. If you have been in an accident with an uninsured motorist, you can call Smith & Hassler today and speak to an attorney for a free consultation.