A comprehensive auto insurance bill that is the product of more than four years of D.C. council study is due to be voted on by the council Tuesday. It is a measure that would provide minimum affordable automobile insurance coverage to the residents of the District; provide complete protection for victims of accidents who are struck by uninsured motorists; and require every company selling insurance in the District to offer the same benefits now available in Maryland and Virginia.
The proposal, introduced by Wilhelmina Rolark, also contains a comprehensive package of consumer protections that would put a stop to economic discrimination by insurance companies and would require all automobile owners to carry vehicle damage insurance, to pay for the repairs to the innocent driver's automobile.
As in Virginia, there would be a $250 penalty for any driver who did not have insurance. There also would be a fund to pay medical bills and lost wages of victims of accidents with uninsured drivers--a fund that would not be financed by everyone, but paid with the penalties assessed against uninsured drivers.
Negligent, careless or irresponsible drivers would not be rewarded, either. The bill would preserve for each of us the right to petition a jury of our peers for compensation for all injuries, loss of wages, pain and suffering and, most of all, destruction of the quality of life.
Another measure, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon's proposal (Bill 4-190), can be called the auto insurance industry's dream bill. It is a radical no-fault approach that is fraught with loopholes favoring the insurance industry.
It carefully skirts the main concerns of consumers: the availability of reasonably priced auto insurance, insurance companies' abusive and discriminatory practices, and protection against arbitrary rate-making and roughshod cancellations of coverage.
Legislators and consumers have answered the insurance industry by not passing a no- fault bill anywhere in the United States since 1975. And, since then, two states have repealed their no-fault laws and returned to traditional auto insurance laws.
More important, bills substantially identical to Mr. Dixon's have been rejected by Congress and in virtually every state where they have been introduced. Only in Michigan is a similar bill in effect, and its results have been disastrous.
Most traffic accidents in the District result in vehicle damage only. The Dixon bill allows the insurance company to escape paying for the repair or replacement of the innocent accident victim's vehicle. It makes the motorist purchase only medical and wage-loss insurance to cover his own expenses. Auto damages would have to be paid for separately. Dixon's bill does not require liability insurance, which is the insurance that pays for vehicle damage. This is a fatal flaw in the Dixon bill.
Under the Dixon plan, if a person has medical coverage through his job or a government source, those sources must be used to pay his medical expenses. The auto insurer need only pay the remaining balance.
A long-standing criticism of no-fault laws is that they discriminate against middle-income and poor people. Dixon's proposal contains typical examples. The Dixon bill has other hidden pitfalls that would place consumers at the mercy of their insurance companies:
The insurance companies are given an absolute right to order the insured person to be treated by doctors chosen by the insurance companies. This is an unnecessary restriction on a consumer's right to medical care by a doctor of his choice.
A meager $1,000 payment is all that your insurance company is required to pay for funeral expenses under Mr. Dixon's plan.
A broad spectrum of our community, including clergymen, police officers, firemen, union members, consumer groups, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, legal analysts and many others have supported the Rolark Bill and oppose no-fault laws for the District. We, too, support the Rolark bill--a truly progressive auto insurance act measure that fits the needs of D.C. motorists.