New law allows digital proof of insurance in traffic stops

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:11 a.m.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala
A new state law means that Aiken County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Feemster and other law enforcement will be able to accept electronic proof of insurance on a driver's smartphone during a traffic stop.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala A new state law means that Aiken County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Feemster and other law enforcement will be able to accept electronic proof of insurance on a driver's smartphone during a traffic stop.

A new law in South Carolina makes it possible for motorists to use their smartphones to show proof of insurance during law enforcement traffic stops.

The law took effect last week when Gov. Nikki Haley signed House Bill 3623 into law.

The House unanimously approved the bill last April, and the Senate unanimously approved it last month.

South Carolina is now one of 31 states that allow drivers to show electronic proof of insurance, according to The Associated Press.

State law requires drivers to keep proof of insurance in their vehicles at all times, and to be able to show it to an officer when requested.

The new law also has a privacy clause that says an officer handed a smartphone for insurance purposes does not have permission to search it for any other information.

S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said keeping track of insurance cards can be a hassle.

“Those who choose to use the electronic version of their insurance card no longer have to keep track of their paper insurance cards, which tend to be misplaced, particularly when they are needed during a traffic stop,” he said. “It's smart to make this technology available to those who are comfortable using it.”

S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, said the new law will make traffic stops easier for motorists and law enforcement.

“Everything's going more toward the modern age. That's another step in that direction,” he said. “It's more convenient for the person that was stopped. I can't speak for the police officer, but I would hope that it would be more convenient for them.”

Lt. Jake Mahoney, a spokesman for the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said the new law will make law enforcement's job easier.

“The goal is to protect the driving public from uninsured motorists,” he said. “By having this available for motorists to verify and show proof not only makes it easier on the motorist, but also on law enforcement.”

In South Carolina, if you're pulled over and found to have no proof of insurance, you can be ticketed and face a fine between $155 and $237.50, in addition to any other tickets or fines you may incur from the traffic stop.

“All fines associated with that can be waived if the operator of the vehicle shows proof of insurance to the court prior to the court date,” Mahoney said, adding that the charge will also be dropped.

You must show a current, valid card. Expired cards won't work.

In 2013, Aiken Public Safety issued 580 citations for no proof of insurance, Mahoney said. Less than half of those were prosecuted and resulted in fines.

During the same year, the agency issued 113 citations for operating uninsured, meaning the driver had no insurance.

The penalty for a first offense of operating uninsured can range from $237 to $445 or 30 days in jail. The penalty for a second offense is $445 and up to 30 days in jail. A third offense lands the violator in General Sessions court, with a jail sentence of 45 days to six months.

No state allowed electronic proof of insurance in 2011, according to The Associated Press.

Seven states approved laws allowing it in 2012, and similar legislation is pending in 10 other states.

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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