FRESH FROM THE desk of D.C. Council Member John Ray comes an intriguing addition to the Politicians' Thesaurus of Contorted Cliches and Other Verbal Abuses: in attempting to explain his latest effort to repeal new protections for victims of auto accidents, Mr. Ray says that "we have taken away the freedom to drive without insurance." There's more: "we have also taken away the freedom to sue."
Now, without abridging or suspending any poetic license, there are some other "freedoms" Mr. Ray doesn't cite. You could start with the freedom of pedestrians, motorists and passengers to avoid the dangers of city streets in which 40 to 50 percent of the motorists are uninsured. In addition to a freedom to sue (which anybody still can exercise under a no-fault law for damages not otherwise covered), what about the freedom to seek quicker, more equitable compensation directly, instead of enduring long, drawn-out and high-priced litigation?
What Mr. Ray is really talking about, and trying to achieve, is the undoing of a law the council has enacted and has to yet to put into effect. He says it would "establish mandatory auto insurance" but here, again, a look behind these words is useful: there would be a two-year period before insurance would become mandatory. During that time, of course, Mr. Ray's proposal would set up--you guessed it--"an independent commission" to "gather and analyze data showing why motorists fail to purchase insurance." (Here, at no cost, is a sneak preview of the answer: if they don't have to buy it, they spend the money on something else, and heaven help anyone hit by them.)
Mr. Ray's stall measure would require this commission to do some other busywork. "First, it must develop a profile of the uninsured motorist," he says, that would "tell us the age, income level, driving history and area of residence of the typical uninsured driver." It also would "report the effects" of the two-year delay during which uninsured motorists could choose to pay $400 to get tags but stay uninsured.
Mayor Barry and other members of the council who agreed to delay the start of no-fault insurance until September should see through Mr. Ray's measure and reject it. Mr. Barry is already on record saying he would veto any attempt to repeal the no- fault law, and council members who listen to constituents other than the trial lawyers' lobbyists should reject Mr. Ray's attempt to undo a law even before it has been given a chance to work. This is called the "freedom" to resist a bad legislative proposal, and it should be exercised emphatically.