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Sun, Sept. 22

Editorial: A bit higher legal minimum car insurance makes sense

Legislators are looking to hike minimum insurance coverage for Arizona’s drivers. To that we say, “It’s about time!”

A bill that the Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety advanced this past week would require vehicle owners to buy policies that provide for at least $25,000 worth of coverage for injuries caused to any one person.

To put this into perspective, the current minimum is only $15,000. Not only was that figure put in place in 1972 — unchanged in 47 years — the cost for a trip in an ambulance regularly tops several thousand dollars, a helicopter ride is 10 times as much as an ambulance ride, and to get fixed up in the ER plus follow-up visits with your doctor, the $15,000 coverage is easily inadequate.

That does not include lost wages, or a multi-vehicle crash in which the offender’s $15,000 is diluted across all victims.

Senate Bill 1087 would boost total coverage for all injuries in any one mishap from $30,000 to $50,000, according to Capitol Media Services. The property coverage — essentially damage to someone else’s vehicle — would go from $10,000 to $15,000. Considering how much even just a good used vehicle costs today, that does not go very far either.

These new minimums are about average, compared to other states’ current requirements. “We’re catching up to the national average,” said Geoff Trachtenberg, who for years lobbied for even higher liability limits. “So it will be just as safe to drive here as it is in any other state.”

Should this legislation become law — it next goes to the full Senate — the cost to motorists buying the legal minimum is not a simple guess of less than $10 more per month. Prescott-area insurance agents said this week the cost depends on multiple factors, including rural versus metro, the person’s driving history, and other risk factors.

Consider that the minimums need to be relevant to 2019 numbers and costs — not when a new car cost $3,542 (in 1972), compared to the average of $35,285 in 2018, according to the internet.

Question is will Gov. Doug Ducey sign the measure into law? In his veto of a similar bill last year, he said: “I am open to the idea of revising our minimum liability limits,” adding that increasing those limits too much could result in some motorists choosing to drop coverage altogether — despite the law and a $500 fine. That’s why this bill is a compromise with lower increases.

A Ducey veto of this bill would leave the rest of us hoping and praying we do not get into an accident, and/or buying “uninsured” and “under-insured” coverage. Those add-ons protect people from drivers who do not follow the law or are involved in a crash that is expensive. Unfortunately, those policy additions cover only bodily injuries.

Let’s look at it this way: like how drivers who live here or are visitors all impact the roadways and should help pay for potholes or road fixes through the gasoline tax, similarly everyone who chooses to drive should have at least minimum coverage that is relevant.

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