The State Department has drafted regulations requiring foreign diplomats to carry as much automobile liability insurance as is required by the jurisdiction where the car is kept.
The regulations, which State Department lawyers say may be changed slightly in response to comments received at a public hearing held Monday, will go into effect within the next two months.
The Diplomatic Relations Act, signed by President Carter in October, required automobile liability insurance for the approximately 12,000 diplomats and their families living in the Washington and New York areas, but left specific guidelines to the State Department.
Diplomats, who until now have not been required to have liability insurance, would be required to carry liablity insurance even if the state they live in does not require it. Of the three local jurisdictions, only Maryland has a compulsory insurance law. In the District, motorists who have been involved in one accident have to show proof of financial responsibility to cover future accidents. In Virginia, motorists without insurance pay a $150 fee to help defray the cost of uninsured motorists' insurance.
But in all three jurisdictions motorists who do carry liability insurance are required to carry a certain minimum amount -- a requirement that will in the future also apply to diplomats.
In the District persons with liablitly insurance must carry insurance that would pay at least up to $10,000. In Maryland, the amount is $20,000, and in Virginia, $25,000.
According to David P. Stewart of the State Department, chiefs of diplomatic missions would have to certify periodically -- probably annually -- to the State Department that their employes have the required insurance. In addition, the State Department would refuse to endorse applications for diplomatic license plates unless the applicant showed proof of insurance.
At Monday's hearing, Paul Keifer, testifying on behalf of the Foggy Bottom-West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, complained that this "monitoring device" did not insure compliance with the regulations. Kiefer also complained that the required coverage was inadequate.
"If I get in an accident and the damage exceeds my insurance coverage, I expose my personal assets to liability," said Kiefer. "My assets -- my house -- could be attached to pay for the damages not covered by insurance. But the assets of members of diplomatic missions can't be attached, so the extent of recovery is going to be the limit of the policy."
The proposed guidelines recommend that each individual carry liability insurance that would pay $100,000 per person injured.
"The prudent person will have more than the minimum amount required," said Stewart in a telephone interview. Stewart said the State Department had considered requiring higher amounts of insurance but had decided not to do so, mainly because insurance regulations traditionally have been left to the states.