AS SO MANY AMERICANS have learned that the hard way, automobile insurance "coverage" in this country is expensive, inefficient and unfair. A disproportionate amount of car-insurance dollars is wasted on a system that doesn't really protect buyers properly. Instead of swift, direct compensation at a justifiable cost, people are running into needless, time consuming litigation, red tape and inadequate payoffs. That's why a growing number of people have become fed up with the auto-insurance system and want Congress to do something about it by enacting a federal no-fault insurance law. An excellent, carefully drafted no-fault measure is scheduled to come before the Senate Commerce Committee today - after a solid decade of study and refinement - and it deserves a strong vote of approval to send it to the full Senate.
Though car owners and potential victims of auto-mobile accidents have come to recognize how much better served and compensated they would be under a genuine, uniform no-fault insurance system, there's a heavily financed lobby against the bill, operated by those who make the big killings under the current lawsuit system: the members of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. According to a Common Cause study of Federal Elections Commission reports, the trial lawyer's lobby gave nearly a quarter of a million dollars to congressional candidates in the last campaign; and at the end of 1977, it had another $100,000 available.
This minority of the nation's legal fraternity would have you believe that no-fault systems may drive up the costs of insurance and that the legislation would "federalize" insurance systems. To begin with, inflation had caused and will continue to cause increases in premiums, with or without no-fault. The difference is in the compensation. Instead of the lawyers pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars from the go-to-court-or-settle system, no-fault would compensate victims more completely and equitably, and much faster.
Moreover, the no-fault measure now before Congress would not "federalize" insurance systems at all.It would merely offer a framework of minimum standards under which each state could proceed to enact a no-fault insurance program ensuring immediate compensation for the economic losses of auto-accident victims. States would still regulate insurance, set rates and oversee procedures for claims and litigation. Above all, the measure would not create any new expensive federal bureaucracy.
Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) has been a primary sponsor of this legislation ever since the first bill was introduced in the Senate, and he has worked long and hard for improvements reflecting the findings of years of studies. Today, the measure is supported by President Carter, as well as a coalition of consumers; labor, medical and rehabilitation professionals; business associations; organizations of older people; insurance companies and farm groups. The debate has gone on long enough. Sensitive members of the Commerce Committee should recognize that their constituents are sick of the insurance mess and want coverage in the truest sense of the word.