Nine members of the D.C. City Council have lined up behind a mandatory no-fault automobile insurance bill that would require the approximately 50 percent of District motorist without car insurance to purchase it.
As hearings began yesterday on the bill, the chairwoman of the council's Public Service and Consumer Affairs Committee, Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), pledged to move swiftly on mandatory auto insurance during this council session. Rolark opposes no-fault, preferring mandatory liability insurance. She has been accused of bottlenecking mandatory insurance measures in the past.
No-fault would cost the average motorist $176 a year, according to insurance industry estimates. Some people -- those with poor driving records, those under 25 years of age or those with certain types of cars -- would pay more. No-fault, however, is expected to lower insurance costs for those already insured.
Washington motorists are not required to have any automobile insurance. The latest estimate, from a study released last year by the Washington Automobile Owners Action Council, estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of the drivers of the District's 114,000 registered cars were uninsured.
Under no-fault insurance, drivers who are in accidents collect from their own insurance companies regardless of who was at fault. Seventeen states have compulsory no-fault insurance laws, although none go as far as a D.C. bill proposed by Council Chairman Arrington L. Dixon.
Dixon's bill would allow persons injured in accidents to make personal-injury claims of up to $100,000, which would cover an estimated 99 percent of all accidents. Injured persons could also make claims for as much as $24,000 in lost wages.
A person injured in an auto accident would not be allowed to sue the other party -- even if the accident were the other person's fault -- unless the damage exceeded $100,000 or the injury were permanent. If a person died in an accident, the survivors would be allowed to sue.
The council in previous sessions has wrestled with compulsory automobile insurance measures, but previous efforts have failed because of Rolark's opposition and heavy lobbying against no-fault by Washington's trial lawyers.
Lately, council members have been taking their crusade for no-fault directly to the community. Dixon has appeared at public forums and on two local television programs, and his latest newsletter to constituents carries a front-page article on his majority-backed no-fault bill.
In addition to the District, 25 states, including Virginia, do not require automobile insurance. Virginia does require uninsured motorists to pay a $200 penalty fee to register their cars, making it cheaper in most cases to purchase insurance. Less than 5 percent of Virginia's drivers are uninsured, said Virginia public information officer Paula Kripaitis. Maryland motorists are required to purchase no-fault insurance as part of a broader insurance package.
Joining Dixon as cosponsors of no-fault were council members Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large), Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6); Hilda Howland M. Mason (Statehood-At-Large); Charlene D. Jarvis (D-Ward 4); William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5); H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7); Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) and Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At-Large).