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Insurance lapses draw fines

By Ed Brock

Kaela Reese of Morrow has learned her lesson about keeping her car insurance current.

"Actually, I had an incident about six years ago when it did lapse," Reese said. "That was a big no-no."

The "incident" was an accident, and Reese had to pay for the damage to her car and the other driver's car.

"Ever since then I've been sure to keep my insurance up," Reese said.

But for drivers who have not learned that lesson, the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety is about to educate them.

Anyone who has allowed their insurance to lapse for more than 24 hours will receive a letter from the DMVS fining them $25, DMVS spokeswoman Susan Sports said. The letters were mailed on Friday.

"They're dated April 1 so people will have 30 days from the date of the letter to pay their fine," Sports said.

As part of the Georgia Electronic Insurance Compliance System, insurance companies regularly report the status of their clients to a statewide database. Along with allowing law enforcement officers to check a driver's proof of insurance via computer, the GEICS database is also providing the state with the information needed to trigger the issuance of a fine.

"It's imperative that everyone who owns or drives a vehicle in Georgia take the personal responsibility to maintain continuous liability insurance," said DMVS Commissioner James Davis. "Make sure bills are paid on time and communicate with insurance agents to ensure smooth policy renewals."

The $25 fee will not apply if the supposed lapse is only a data transmission problem, provided the driver's insurance company transmits the corrected information. Lapses in insurance due to late payments and expected grace periods will be subject to the fee.

If the fee is not paid within 30 days of receiving the letter the vehicle's registration will be suspended, the owner will not be allowed to drive the vehicle and will have to pay $60 to have the registration reinstated.

So far none of Morrow State Farm Insurance Agent Rob Bentley's customers have called him about the letters.

"I've got some folks who obviously are going to be in jeopardy," Bentley said. "This should promote a greater sense of responsibility."

Bentley and other agents are usually notified when a customer's policy has lapsed. He will be making some more courtesy calls to those customers now.

"Now we have some additional verbage for those calls," Bentley said. "When that conversation has occurred the overdue amount has to be paid that day."

The GEICS system was initially implemented in January 2003 but the implementation was then set back because some drivers were being left out of the system accidentally and to fix other problems, Sports said. It went back in service more than two months ago and since that time the problems with omitted drivers has not recurred.

Procedures are in place to make sure that customers in good standing who are mistakenly left off the database are quickly reinstated, Bentley said.

To check an individual's vehicle insurance status, go to www.dmvs.ga.gov.