What auto insurance coverage is required to satisfy the new no-fault law taking effect Oct. 1 in the District? Are Maryland and Virginia residents who commute to the District expected to buy additional insurance to comply with the D.C. law? What happens to an uninsured out-of-state driver who has an accident in the District after the law is implemented?
Those are some of the questions now troubling Washington-area residents who must abide by the law or face stiff penalties, including possible jail sentences, fines and driver's license suspension.
And, to help them, the D.C. department of consumer and regulatory affairs has established an insurance hot line at 727-2426. Call between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. for information. The department also has published a pamphlet that lists answers to some of the more common questions about the requirements of the law. A copy can be ordered from the hot-line staff.
Currently, the auto insurance requirements for area motorists depend on the jurisdiction in which they live. Here is a summary of the different plans:
* Virginia motorists have the choice of carrying a minimum amount of insurance or paying $200 a year to a special state fund when they buy their auto tags.
The minimum insurance required by the state is called 25/50/10 liability coverage--$25,000 of liability for bodily injuries for any injured person, $50,000 maximum per accident and $10,000 in property damage liability--and the same limits of uninsured motorist protection that you collect if you are injured by an uninsured driver who caused the accident.
If an uninsured driver has an accident, he must be able to show financial assets equal to the minimum insurance policy of 25/50/10. If he can't do that, his license can be suspended until he buys insurance or posts the appropriate bond.
* Maryland residents must carry a minimum of 20/40/10 bodily injury and property damage liability, 20/40/10 uninsured motorist protection and $2,500 personal injury coverage. When you apply for auto registration in Maryland, you must submit proof showing you have minimum insurance.
If you are caught driving without the minimum coverage (and some people have been known to cancel their policy after getting their car registered), you are subject to a fine of up to $100. If you have an accident while driving without insurance, you could lose your license.
* D.C. drivers, starting Oct. 1, must have minimum coverage of personal injury protection of $100,000 for medical and rehabilitation expenses, $24,000 for work loss and $2,000 for funeral expenses; 10/20 bodily injury liability for accidents that occur outside the District that they cause; $5,000 for property damage liability; 10/20/5 uninsured motorist coverage that protects them if another party causes an accident and does not have insurance.
Those who drive without insurance in the District after Oct. 1 will be subject to a jail sentence of up to 90 days and a fine of up to $500.
The D.C. Department of Transportation will suspend or revoke your auto registration and may suspend or revoke your driver's license. And if you should be in an auto accident, you may be sued by the other driver for any damage you have caused.
Companies will automatically convert policies for D.C. residents now carrying auto liability coverage so they are properly insured under the new law. Those who don't have liability coverage must arrange to buy no-fault insurance.
Insurance officials say Maryland and Virginia drivers who are in compliance with the minimum insurance requirements for their respective states won't need to buy any additional coverage to satisfy the D.C. law. That is because, as a general rule, the standard insurance policy that meets the minimum requirements of one state automatically converts to meet the minimum of other states when the policyholder is traveling through those other states.
Assistant Maryland Insurance Commissioner Thomas Raimonde said his agency is checking to make sure that all companies now doing business in Maryland include an endorsement guaranteeing that conversion. Virginia insurance officials aren't making a special check, but they believe the standard policy sold in their state contains the conversion feature.
Motorists worried about whether their policy converts can check with their insurance agent.
As for the uninsured, out-of-state driver who has an accident in the District after Oct. 1, he will be subject to the same penalties as an uninsured resident driver--jail, fine, revocation of car registration and driver's license and maybe even a lawsuit for any damage he causes.