The law is clear in Alabama: Drivers must have liability insurance to operate, register or maintain a motor vehicle. "Most people think that mandatory insurance is the law, so everybody is in compliance. But that's not true," said Marshall England, an insurance agent in Huntsville.
Marshall is right. The state of Alabama estimates 22 percent of state drivers don't have insurance. That is one of the worst rates in the nation.
Huntsville driver Cindy Hallman found out the hard way that mandatory insurance isn't really mandatory. "I had stopped because the woman in front of me had stopped, and almost immediately the woman who hit me, hit me," Hallman said.
The driver who rear ended Hallman's SUV caused significant damage. That driver did not have insurance. "It ruined my day, it ruined my day. I have a brand new car, my first brand new car ever. And after one car payment, I've got a repair that I have to pay for. My insurance pays for," Hallman said.
In Hallman's case, the cost of the repair to her vehicle was more than $1,200. Insurance agent Marshall England understands the feeling. He's been hit by uninsured drivers, twice. "The second one, I eventually did recover my out-of-pocket deductible, but believe it or not, that took five years," says Marshall.
Drivers without insurance can certainly face a court battle. They do face a $500 fine for a first offense, and a $200 fee to reinstate their vehicle registration. For a second offense both of those fees double. It sounds like a deterrent, but that isn't the way it works.
"I think they should pay for the damage that they do, but it's probably like the police officer said. She probably couldn't afford to pay for it," said Hallman.
Alabama state officials are well aware of the insurance problem. WHNT News 19 is Taking Action -- we talked about the situation with state legislators. They say the topic is definitely being discussed in Montgomery . The state now has a database so law enforcement, and even license offices can check the insurance status of prospective car owners and drivers.
Fixing the situation may be tougher than it appears, though. As one legislator told us, part of the problem is having a penalty that's strong enough to make people get insurance, but not so harsh that it keeps people who need to drive from actually operating a vehicle.