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FAIRBANKS - Alaska State Troopers will start citing motorists Tuesday if they can't prove they have insurance as required by a law that went into effect July 1. Other law enforcement agencies are following their lead.
Because many people weren't aware of the law change back in July, Public Safety Commissioner Del Smith decided to allow Alaskans time to obtain insurance verification before troopers began issuing citations, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.
In Juneau, police have been issuing warnings to motorists without proof of insurance, said Sgt. John Boltjes. But beginning Oct. 1, he said, police will have the discretion to issue citations or warnings.
Without proof of insurance, motorists face up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Insurance agents and law enforcement officials said the word hasn't gotten out about the new law.
"I wouldn't say we've had an extraordinary number of people that have said, 'Gee, I need proof of insurance,"' said Ron Dixon, an insurance agent in Fairbanks.
The state requires motorist carry at least liability insurance with the minimum coverage limit of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per occurrence for bodily damage and at least $25,000 for property damage, Dixon said.
A ticket issued by an officer for failing to have the insurance proof is correctable. A motorist who is cited can bring an insurance card, payment receipt or policy paperwork to trooper headquarters or the police department that issued the citation. However, if the motorist didn't have insurance at the time of the citation, the driver will have to go to court.
Whether the new law will make a difference in insurance rates remains to be seen.
"There's still a great deal of people driving around uninsured," said Dixon, the insurance agent. "I don't know if this law will change that. You certainly hope so."
Police said the law is a step in the right direction that makes it easier on motorists who have to exchange insurance information after an accident.
"We handle numerous accidents where people don't have insurance," Fairbanks Police Sgt. Eric Jewkes said. "Maybe this will force them or cause them to get insurance before they get into an accident, rather than after."