State law fails to catch uninsured drivers until it's too late

Posted at 9:36 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-27 06:58:32-04

There are more than 4 million licensed drivers in Wisconsin, every one of them required by state law to have auto insurance.

But Thein Miller knows better than most many drivers are breaking the law.

Miller was hit by an uninsured driver not once, but three different times. Each time, he was stuck with the damage and the bill.

"This has gotta stop somewhere. I'm very disappointed. They should have insurance," Miller said.

The I-TEAM discovered this happens more than you might expect.

In 2014, 14,510 uninsured Wisconsin drivers were involved in crashes. Almost 9,000 of those ended with property damage someone had to pay for 5,400 had injuries and another 44 crashes ended with someone dead.

From his perspective, Miller says Wisconsin's law requiring auto insurance has a major flaw, no one makes sure you're following the law until it's too late.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo admits many drivers ignore the 2008 law and refuse to buy insurance.

"Now that the law has been on the books for a while we're finding out people are just scamming the system," Sanfelippo said.

As Sanfelippo explained, Wisconsin lawmakers designed the law to only require proof of insurance after a police stop or after a crash.

Unlike our neighbors in Illinois, where the state randomly requires drivers to mail in their proof of insurance or face suspension.

That is a process Sanfelippo calls wrong for Wisconsin.

"That translates into extra work that the DMV has to do and that's going to translate into higher fees. So you're still penalizing people who are doing everything they should," he said.

But it does make a difference.

In 2014, only 7 percent of Illinois crashes involved someone uninsured.

In Wisconsin, the percentage was 12.

Though even that number is an improvement, down from 17 percent before Wisconsin made insurance mandatory in 2008.

"There's plenty of room to go farther. I think what we need to make that number go down farther is to put more teeth into the current law," Sanfelippo said.

The teeth he favors include increased fines that would still come after the fact.

In 2015, Sanfelippo got a bill passed increasing fines for drivers without insurance. Again, only after they get stopped by police or cause a crash.

That would still be too late for Miller.

His last crash left him taking the bus or walking where he needs to go.

"I'm trying to do the best I can," Miller said. "And to have me doing the right thing and have that happen to me is just unacceptable."