‘We need to address that problem,’ Senator invokes KFOR sportscaster to tackle uninsured drivers

OKLAHOMA - A state lawmaker is naming a bill after a beloved NewsChannel 4 sportscaster, as he works to lower the state's rate of uninsured drivers.

Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee) has filed The Bob Barry Jr. Oklahoma Responsible Driver Act to crack down on people who skirt an Oklahoma system he calls flawed.

Barry died in 2015, after an uninsured and unlicensed driver made an illegal U-Turn in front of him.

Though a law likely would not have prevented Barry's death, Sharp hopes the Hall-of-Fame sportscaster's name will draw attention to the problem.

"We have one out of four drivers on our interstate and highway system and in our counties, cities that are driving without insurance," Sharp said. "There are tremendous consequences because, again, if you're hit by an uninsured driver, you're on your own. Your insurance has to cover it."

Right now, though Oklahoma has a certification system, companies issue insurance reports in different ways, said Kelly Dexter, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Insurance Department.

Some update their lists weekly, others monthly, she said.

Sharp's bill would require insurance companies to send paperwork to consumers and the Department of Public Safety, alerting them their license will be suspended if they don't begin paying premiums.

Offenders would be registered in a DPS database for three years, required to keep auto insurance.

"We have 90 percent of our insurers in the state of Oklahoma pay by the month, which makes it very simple for them to pay for which their tag is due and then stop payment on it," Sharp said. "And, that's probably what most citizens of Oklahoma are doing."

Drivers would be allowed to change insurance, Sharp said, but, unless a driver dies or gives up his or her vehicle, he or she must stay on the registry.

Some in the insurance industry said they're wary a change could result in costs passed down to consumers.

"I just don't see the law enforcement value in this," said Joe Woods, vice president of state government relations with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "But, I do know it would increase costs on insurance company, the insurance agent and consumers."

Insurance companies would have to shoulder what Woods calls a "minor cost" but a significant hassle that would be passed on to the people paying the premiums.

"So, you're stacking costs on the people who are actually buying insurance to try to enforce the uninsured motorists law for the folks who are not," he said.

Instead, Woods wants to see law enforcement at every level work together to thoroughly enforce the laws already on the books.