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Tow Truck and Car

Tennessee law enforcement can now tow drivers on the spot for driving without insurance. According to the Insurance Information Institute (the “Institute”), six other states have enacted similar towing laws including Louisiana, Texas, Utah, California, Oklahoma, and Arizona. The new Tennessee law aiming to get uninsured drivers off the road was approved last year and is in effect. In addition to putting into place new penalties for uninsured drivers, the law mandates the creation of a statewide electronic insurance verification program. By 2017, authorities will be able to use this insurance verification system to check a vehicle’s VIN number and see whether or not the owner has insurance. Here’s what you need to know about this new Tennessee auto insurance law.

What’s the story behind this new law?

This new law is named the James Lee Atwood Jr. Law, in honor of James Lee Atwood Jr. of Memphis, TN. On July 1, 2014, an uninsured driver crashed into and killed Atwood in southeast Memphis. As reported by Action News 5, the uninsured driver was pulled over and cited for driving without insurance the day of the fatal accident. Without the authority to detain him, officers gave him a citation and let him continue driving. Just seven hours later, this uninsured driver crashed into Mr. Atwood and killed him.

While Tennessee drivers have been required to carry auto insurance since 1977, the state still ranks sixth in the nation for uninsured drivers, reports the Institute. The III estimates that 20%, or nearly one million drivers, are uninsured in TN.

What are the new penalties for driving without insurance in TN?

Three key penalties have gone into effect with this new law:

  • Increased Fine: As of July 1, 2015, the fine for violating TN’s financial responsibility law (proof of insurance) increased from $100 to $300.
  • Towed Immediately: As of January 1, 2016, drivers could have their car towed on the spot if they’re unable to provide proof of insurance during a traffic stop.
  • No Tag Renewal: No proof of liability insurance? No tags. If the new verification system shows that your vehicle is uninsured and you cannot show proof insurance, you won’t be able to renew your tags (and you could be subject to reinstatement fees).
  • Harsher penalties if uninsured: New law has a graduating schedule of fines for uninsured drivers as determined through the verification program, including maximum suspension of vehicle registration and seizure of tags, with a $300 reinstatement fee.

It’s important to note that this law does not require police to tow a vehicle whose driver doesn’t provide proof of insurance during a traffic stop. This law simply gives them the option to do so.

As Chattanooga sheriff’s office spokesman Matt Lea said in a recent statement, “The statute states the vehicle can be towed, but it doesn’t state what can be done or should be done with the vehicle after it is towed.” There’s still a lot of planning and research to be done before individual law enforcement agencies have towing policies and procedures in place, Lea added.

What can you do to avoid these new penalties?

Avoid these new penalties for uninsured drivers by 1) purchasing Tennessee auto insurance that meets the state’s minimum coverage requirements and 2) having proof of that coverage at all times. Drivers who are insured through Direct Auto Insurance have digital access to their insurance ID card 24/7 when they download the Direct Auto Mobile app.

Talk to your local Direct Auto insurance agent if you have questions about this new law or any other insurance requirements in your state.