A group representing consumer advocates and insurance companies asked District election officials yesterday to approve a citywide referendum to maintain the city's no-fault automobile insurance law and block recently passed legislation that would make no-fault coverage optional.

Calling itself Yes on No-Fault, the group asked the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to approve the language of the referendum proposal and permit the group to begin gathering an estimated 13,700 signatures necessary to put the issue to a vote.

If approved, the referendum could require a special citywide election to be held sometime next year.

Frank Bolden, a spokesman for the group and outgoing president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, said supporters of the referendum were particularly upset that the mandatory no-fault law -- which went into effect Oct. 1, 1983 -- was scrapped by the City Council before its impact was formally assessed.

"What really stuck in people's craw was that they changed the law before we could find out whether it was worthwhile," Bolden said. "We felt that it was working and that it was a big help compared to what we had when there were so many people running around without any insurance at all."

The council, after heavy lobbying by Mayor Marion Barry and the city's trial lawyers, voted 7 to 5 last month to allow motorists to choose between standard liability insurance and no-fault coverage, which allows motorists to be compensated by their own insurance companies regardless of who is at fault in an accident.

Trial lawyers opposed the no-fault law because it prevented motorists involved in accidents from filing suit unless their medical expenses exceeded $5,000.

If the board approves the referendum proposal, the new law would be held in abeyance and supporters of the referendum would have 114 days to collect the necessary voter signatures for an election.