WHEN IT COMES to savaging the city's no-fault insurance protections for motorists and pedestrians, never underestimate the power of attorneys--those who thrive on the old expensive lawsuit-and-legal-fee way of doing business. You may have thought, as we did, that on this score, the trial lawyers' lobbyists had already had their day in court and lost when the D.C. Council finally enacted a workable no-fault bill. But now, just as the bill is about to take effect, the lobbyists have found two council members to toss a monkey wrench into the works: John Ray and Jerry Moore are pushing "emergency" legislation to delay the effective date of the no-fault changes beyond the annual auto registration deadline of March 31.

Their excuse is that the city government isn't ready to handle the changes involved in putting the law into effect. It happens that those responsible for the administrative details don't share the anxiety of Mr. Ray and Mr. Moore and in fact claim that they are prepared for the law to change. The effect of the Ray-Moore stall would be to put off no-fault protection for at least another year, or to throw things into total confusion.

Those council members who share a greater concern--who are as worried as their constituents about the fact that roughly half of the city's motorists are cruising around town without any insurance --should resist the stall and make sure no-fault and mandatory auto insurance protections take effect. The "emergency" isn't that the city government can't handle the law--it is that there is no law in effect yet, and the sooner the better.

For years, coalitions of consumer groups, organizations of the elderly, business, labor and individuals who are sick of lawsuits, fees, delays and inequitable compensation have fought to get this law on the books. The council finally responded last year--and the members should keep their earlier pledges and resist all sneak attacks on these hard-won protections.