Whether individuals should be mandated to have health insurance is up for national debate and a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether they must have car insurance is not. Every vehicle owned and operated in California must have at least basic liability coverage.
Despite the requirement, the state Insurance Commissioner estimates that 15 percent of the cars on the road do not have insurance. Cost is a primary reason. But there is a low-cost auto insurance program available to adults with modest incomes and good driving records.
The Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program is sponsored by the state but is not subsidized with taxpayers dollars, and the insurance is provided by commercial insurance companies. The cost for basic liability coverage is promised to be less than $400 per year, and in our region, it is significantly less. Some counties will see a rate reduction in May. There is a surcharge for single male drivers under 25.
Consumers also can buy coverage for uninsured motorist and medical payments. Comprehensive and collision coverage is not part of this program. Five payment options are available.
This insurance program was started as an experiment in 1999 and expanded over the years to be available statewide. It became available here in the valley in 2006. Other states are expressing an interest in trying the same kind of program to address the problem of uninsured drivers, said Dave Jones, insurance commissioner, who visited The Modesto Bee's editorial board last month.
We see this as a program with many benefits and few drawbacks. While the insurance commissioner's office promotes it, the coverage is provided by private insurance companies. They get new customers -- and the potential to sell those customers expanded coverage. Low-income motorists benefit, but so do all insured drivers who dread the idea of being involved in an accident with someone with no insurance.
Only a few hundred people from our region are currently acquiring low-cost auto insurance through this program. One reason for the low response may be that eligible drivers just don't know about it.
The insurance commissioner's office is using billboards, texting campaigns and other strategies to get the word out about this worthwhile program to help all good drivers have access to affordable auto liability insurance. If you know family members, friends, neighbors or others who might qualify, please share this information with them.
LOW COST CAR INSURANCE
Rates by county
Merced — $248, decreasing to $231 as of May 15
San Joaquin — $314, decreasing to $287 as of May 15
Tuolumne — $264, decreasing to $248 as of May 15
Calaveras — $264
Mariposa — $264
Madera — $248
Good driving record
at least 19 years old
Continuously licensed to drive for three years
Own a vehicle valued at $20,000 or less
Meet income eligibility requirements ($27,225 for one person, $36,775 for two people, up to $55,875 for a family of four)
for more information: (866) 602-8861; www.mylowcostauto.com; or text “lowcost” to 65374.