Andy Wise Investigates: How Arkansas tackles uninsured drivers - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Andy Wise Investigates: how Arkansas tackles uninsured drivers

Andy Wise Investigates: How Arkansas tackles uninsured drivers

(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
Memphis police cited Graves for an expired tag and no insurance, then let her drive off. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) Memphis police cited Graves for an expired tag and no insurance, then let her drive off. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

When he was a cop, Ford Beach, Jr., could really crack down on uninsured drivers. "I towed their cars several times," said the former Parkin, AR, police officer.

That made it all the more maddening when Beach, Jr. -- who now lives in Tennessee -- was side-swiped by 19-year-old Tyree Graves of East Memphis last September at Hacks Cross Rd. and Highway 385. Memphis police cited Graves for an expired tag and no insurance, then let her drive off.

"That's what irritated me the most -- that I was going to be responsible (for the damage to my vehicle)," Beach, Jr., said.

Tennessee law doesn't allow police officers to seize the tags or tow the cars of drivers cited for driving without insurance or without proof of insurance.

But Arkansas does.

Since 2011, Arkansas has allowed law enforcement to impound vehicles that don't carry the minimum liability insurance or a certificate of self-insurance. An Arkansas officer stopping a motorist can contact dispatch and request an ACIC (Arkansas Crime Information Center) check of the driver's insurance status.

Dennis Burns, assistant chief of police of the Marion, AR, police department, said the impound law is triggered when an ACIC check reveals a driver either with no insurance or with two or more citations for no proof of insurance.

"(The car) can be towed and held until you get proof of liability insurance on that vehicle," Burns confirmed.

However, even the ACIC's director said its vehicle insurance database isn't always up to date. "People will go register their car with proof of insurance, then cancel their insurance," said ACIC Director Jay Winters. "So it's not anything law enforcement can use to determine whether a driver is insured or should be charged. You could not get a conviction from that."

"We couldn't get a conviction, but we could sure make their life miserable by towing a car and giving an automatic court date on the ticket," said Beach, Jr.

Reached on the phone, Graves -- who also has pending charges of disorderly conduct and marijuana possession with intent to sell in a January incident -- said she secured insurance on her vehicle after the wreck with Beach, Jr. She also insisted she's reimbursing Beach, Jr.'s insurance company.

"I'm doing everything I got to do to pay these folks back their money," Graves said. "That's all I can tell you right now."

Tennessee lawmakers have drafted a bill to strengthen the penalties on uninsured drivers. The proposal was drafted after uninsured driver Roderick Maggett of Cordova, TN, killed insured driver James Lee Atwood last July in an accident on Shelby Dr. in Southeast Memphis. Memphis police charged Maggett with vehicular homicide and violation of the state's financial responsibility (proof of insurance) law. The case is before a Shelby County grand jury.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators support the proposal, which seeks to triple the fines, seize the tags and tow the cars of drivers cited for no proof of insurance. It also seeks to implement a database that will enable law enforcement and the Tennessee Department of Revenue to track uninsured drivers through their vehicles' registrations.

THE BILLS ARE HOUSE BILL 0606 AND SENATE BILL 0648. The first scheduled votes on the proposal are TUESDAY, MARCH 24. The WMC Action News 5 Investigators will be there to cover the votes. West Tennessee members of the committees voting that day will include:

* Sen. Dolores R. Gresham, (R) Somerville (District 26:  Fayette, Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy & Henderson counties)

* Sen. Reginald Tate, (D) Memphis (District 33:  Shelby County)

* Rep. Steve McManus, (R) Cordova (District 96:  Shelby County)

* Rep. Joe Towns, (D) Memphis (District 84:  Shelby County)

Please click on those links for the information to contact each senator or representative. Call or e-mail them and ask them to vote "Yes" on SB 0648 or HB 0606 in committee Tuesday, March 24.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.

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