CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If West Virginia drivers were forced to pay more for mandatory minimum vehicle insurance, more of them would drive without any coverage at all, an insurance industry representative told legislators Tuesday.
"It will have the effect of pushing people into the uninsured population," Jill Rice, president of the West Virginia Insurance Federation, said of proposed legislation to raise minimum coverage for bodily injury and property damage.
Currently, West Virginia drivers must have at least $20,000 worth of coverage for bodily injury to one person, $40,000 for injury to two or more people, and $10,000 for property damage.
Earlier this year, state senators took up a bill (SB443) to raise those minimums to $25,000, $50,000, and $25,000. The bill passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, but was never acted on in Judiciary Committee.
On Tuesday, Rice said that legislation would increase premiums for drivers carrying minimum coverage by between $24 and $71 a year.
That could be enough to lead many low-income drivers who can barely afford current minimum coverage to drive uninsured, she said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, requested data on what percent of drivers currently carry minimum coverage.
"I think we need to understand how many people would be impacted if we do this," Palumbo said.
Rice said she did not have that figure, but said she understood anecdotally that about 17 percent of state drivers are at the minimum.
Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, questioned whether those carrying minimum coverage tend to be high-risk drivers.
Rice said she did not have that answer, but added, "I know a lot of high-risk drivers fall into 20-40-10 (coverage) because that's the premium they can pay."
During the regular session, trial lawyers advocated for the higher minimums, noting that the current minimums have not increased since 1979, and are unrealistically low compared to present-day costs for medical care and for automobile repair or replacement.
Tuesday's agenda for the interim Judiciary committee studying the issue provided an opportunity for a response from a representative of the West Virginia Association for Justice, the state trial lawyers' organization. However, there was no response.
Senate Government Organization Chairman Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said he was surprised the insurance industry opposes increasing the mandatory minimum coverage.
"It would seem to me the industry would want to sell more insurance," he said. "My insurance companies, and I deal with several, always want me to have more coverage."
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.