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Our View: Underinsured drivers also a danger

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Reporter Jeff Engelhardt’s story this week about uninsured drivers contained some eye-opening statistics.

According to the Insurance Research Council, about 15 percent of Illinois drivers – more than a million people – are on the roads without insurance for their vehicles.

The Secretary of State’s office puts the number considerably lower than that – it says its random surveys of 300,000 drivers at a time show about 4 percent of drivers are uninsured.

The truth is likely somewhere in between. Locally, there were more than 2,200 citations issued by police in DeKalb, Sycamore and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office in 2012. Police in Sycamore reported that more than a quarter of all citations written were for drivers without insurance.

And those were just the people who were caught.

But many people who comply with the law probably don’t have enough insurance, especially if they’re carrying only the state-required minimum in liability coverage.

Illinois first began requiring that drivers carry liability insurance on their vehicles in 1990. Since the law went into effect 23 years ago, the mandatory insurance levels have not changed: Drivers still are required to have only $20,000 in liability coverage for a crash that causes injury or death to a single person, $40,000 in coverage for a crash that injures or kills multiple people and $15,000 in property damage coverage.

That might have been adequate 23 years ago, but it doesn’t come close to being enough in 2013.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average cost in 2005 of a car crash fatality was $3.2 million; the average cost of an injury was $68,170.

We can only assume that over the past eight years, those prices have spiked as much as the cost of most everything health care related.

If the average cost of an injury suffered in a car crash in 2005 was almost $70,000, then the minimum for liability coverage for a single person should be increased to at least $80,000.

The cost to cover injuries to multiple people and property damage limits should be increased accordingly, and there should also be a mechanism for increasing liability limits over time.

If this proves to be a shock to some drivers, perhaps the requirements can be phased in over a few years.

However, drivers on the road should be required to carry enough insurance to cover any potential damage they might do if they are responsible for causing an accident.

It’s the fair thing for those with whom they share the road. It’s also fair for them – after all, a person carrying the minimum in liability insurance could find themselves saddled with serious restitution costs if they cause a serious accident.

In that scenario, both the driver and whomever they hit would probably wish they had more adequate coverage.

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