Uncertain Future For Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is considering whether to extend the state’s
low-cost auto insurance program, which offers bare-bones coverage to
motorists who would otherwise drive without insurance — and break the

So far, few Sonoma County residents have signed up for the coverage, which costs $251 a year.

very important that this program be extended,” said Doug Heller,
executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit
that tracks insurance issues. “The last thing we want is for people to
be uninsured.”

The program will expire at the end of 2010 unless it is extended by lawmakers.

one in four California drivers lacks auto insurance, according to Steve
Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner. It’s against the law and
puts other drivers at risk, he said. Uninsured motorists can have their
licenses suspended or revoked.

The low-cost insurance program
was launched statewide in 2007, and so far about 45,000 policies have
been sold. Premiums vary by county, ranging from $161 to $368.

only 142 policies have been sold in Sonoma County. where an estimated
28,000 motorists had no insurance in 2007, according to state figures.

doesn’t mean the program hasn’t been successful, said Molly DeFrank, a
spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance. Many uninsured motorists
who checked out the program found they could afford better coverage,
she said.

The state hasn’t done enough to promote the program and insurance brokers often don’t tell customers about it, Heller said.

“This is bare-bones coverage, but it’s far better than being uninsured,” he said.

coverage includes $10,000 for bodily injury or death per person in an
accident, $20,000 for bodily injury or death per accident, and $3,000
property damage for each accident.

To qualify, motorists can’t
earn more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level — $27,075 for a
single person, $36,425 for a couple or $55,125 for a family of four.

The value of the insured vehicle can’t be more than $20,000.

applicant must be a “good driver,” with no more than one at-fault,
property-damage-only accident, or one point for a moving violation in
the past three years.

An applicant must be at least 19 years
old with three years’ driving experience. In addition, a driver must
have no at-fault accidents involving injury or death in the past three
years and no felony or misdemeanor convictions for a vehicle code

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