With advancements in technology, it seems as though almost everything is going digital. This includes car insurance cards that were previously only available in paper form. The question often asked, however, is whether or not digital proof of car insurance is enough. While this is still a rather contested subject, general advice from law enforcement officials suggests that, in fact, it is not, and it is still necessary to carry paper proof of insurance.
Insurance Company Responsibility
With the popularity of iPhones, iPads, laptops, and PDA’s at an all-time high, it is actually quite easy to find insurance companies who will provide proof of insurance in digital form. However, no insurance company will only provide digital proof of car insurance, as it is still required by law that every insurance agent must furnish the insured with two paper copies of the proof of insurance (typically issued as ID cards).
The Role of Law Enforcement Agencies
Most often, the decision about the validity of digital proof of car insurance lies with the individual police officer at the scene—a fact recently verified by Michigan Police Chief Edward Harris. Because there is no way of knowing how a law enforcement official will interpret the largely ambiguous rules about valid forms of car insurance, this potential variability alone suggests that digital proof of car insurance is not guaranteed to be acceptable.
In many states, the law simply requires that the driver produce “evidence” of insurance, terminology that may allow a driver to successfully defend the validity of digital proof of car insurance. However, other states (such as Washington) specify that a driver must show “written” proof of insurance, and often, police officers will take this to mean a paper copy of proof of insurance.
The best answers to the question of whether or not digital proof of car insurance is enough lie in the documented cases of its refusal. In January 2011, for example, David House and Jane Hamsher were detained in Hamsher’s car while visiting Pfc. Bradley Manning at his base in Virginia, and military officers there would not accept Hamsher’s digital proof of car insurance. As a result, Hamsher’s car was impounded. When questioned about this decision, military officials stated that this was standard protocol in the state of Virginia.
Consequences of driving with digital proof of car insurance, when that proof is not considered valid, will vary by state. For example, a Wisconsin driver found to be driving without a paper copy of their insurance ID will only be fined $10; however, in other states, the driver’s car may be impounded—which can result in towing and impound fees that add up to hundreds of dollars. Thus, choosing not to carry paper proof of insurance would not seem worth the financial risk.
This new technology may certainly be appealing to drivers, particularly those apt to lose the paper proof of insurance sent to them by their insurance companies, but it should not replace the paper copy. Not only is it likely that a digital device will not survive a crash (thus leaving drivers without digital ID cards), but many police offers will likely conclude that digital proof of car insurance is not enough.
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