Ensure Insurance Rules Are Realistic

West Virginia legislators should continue looking into a proposal they increase minimum requirements for vehicle insurance in the state – but they need more information before proceeding.

State law requires motorists must carry insurance with specified minimum coverages. Currently, they are $20,000 for bodily injury to one person involved in an accident, $40,000 for two or more, and $10,000 for property damage. Obviously, those limits are too low, in view of costs for medical care and vehicle replacement.

A bill to increase those minimums to $25,000, $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, was introduced earlier this year in the state Senate. It never made it to a vote on the Senate floor.

Legislators discussed the issue again this week during an interim meeting. Jill Rice, president of the West Virginia Insurance Federation, said many in the industry worry about the side-effects of increasing the limits. That would require higher premiums for base insurance and might prompt some drivers to drop their coverage altogether, she told lawmakers.

A substantial number of motorists rely on minimum coverage in their vehicle insurance policies. Rice said she was not certain of a number, but estimated it could be in the range of 17 percent of drivers in the state.

Tuesday’s meeting left legislators with as many questions as answers. One is what percentage of those carrying minimum coverage are high-risk drivers, more likely to be involved in accidents.

Another is the effect of not changing the law on the remaining 83 percent or so of Mountain State motorists.

Someone has to pay for medical treatment of people injured in accidents, and for repairs or replacement of damaged property. When the person at fault in an accident does not have insurance adequate to do that, the burden often falls on the victim’s insurance. That can mean higher premiums for everyone.

Reasonable people do not like the idea of pricing insurance out of the reach of low-income West Virginians, of course. But adequate insurance, like car payments and gasoline prices, needs to be considered as part of the cost of operating a vehicle. If lawmakers determine the current minimum requirements are unrealistically low and are forcing most West Virginians to subsidize those with such coverage, the limits should be increased.