A D.C. City Council committee recommended yesterday that money raised through a proposed penalty fee imposed on uninsured motorists be used to help victims of accidents caused by uninsured drivers.
Victims of such accidents could get up to $10,000 to help pay medical costs not covered by other means, according to the measure approved by the Committee on Transportation as an amendment to a pending auto insurance bill.
The amendment would make anyone who has a motor vehicle that does not carry insurance ineligible to benefit from the fund, whether or not that vehicle is involved in an accident at issue.
The amendment would be added to an insurance bill that would require all District motorists who already have liability insurance to purchase for a small fee additional protection against injury or damage caused by an uninsured motorist. It also would impose an annual fee of $250 for each vehicle registered to an uninsured owner.
That insurance bill, proposed by council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), is a controversial alternative to a no-fault insurance bill that has been blocked in Rolark's public service and consumer affairs committee. It will be taken up by the full council March 30.
More than 40 percent of the District's nearly 300,000 registered vehicles are not insured, according to city officials and insurance firms.
Rolark said her bill would encourage most uninsured motorists to obtain insurance rather than pay the penalty fee. Critics of the measure contend that it would be difficult to administer, more expensive than no-fault, and would not significantly reduce the number of uninsured drivers.
"This is unique" legislation, Rolark said yesterday, adding that she would support the uninsured motorist fund proposal offered by Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), chairman of the transportation committee.
Rolark said she knew of no other jurisdiction that uses uninsured motorist funds to pay medical costs of victims.
Although the amendment leaves some administrative details for the mayor to work out, a committee staff member said he expected fewer than 100 persons to make claims against the fund annually.
Persons who made claims would have to show proof of injury and any sources of income that could be used to pay their bills, including general health insurance. Victims would have up to 180 days after an accident to make a claim.
Uninsured motorists would have to begin paying into the program after Oct. 1 if the measure passes the full council, but payments from the fund for accidents after Oct. 1 would probably be delayed for a time.
The measure was based in part on the Victims of Violent Crimes bill that the council recently passed. That measure would give some victims of violent crime without any other resources up to $25,000 to pay medical fees.