Clanton Police Department officer Chris Whittle demonstrates how officers use the Online Insurance Verification System (OIVS) in their patrol cars on traffic stops.

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New law helps officers verify motorists’ insurance

Published 7:18pm Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A new state law effective since Jan. 1 allows law enforcement officers to verify motorists’ insurance on their computers before the officers step out of their vehicles during unrelated traffic stops.

With Alabama’s adoption of Act 2011-688, officers can now determine whether a motorist they have pulled over for an unrelated traffic violation has valid vehicle insurance by entering the motorist’s tag number into the Online Insurance Verification System (OIVS).

OIVS is a computer database available to state law enforcement agencies containing motorists’ information and whether their insurance is confirmed (valid) or unconfirmed (invalid).

Capt. Neil Fetner of the Clanton Police Department said the new law necessitates that insurance companies comply by reporting their clients’ information to the Alabama Department of Revenue for use on OIVS.

Fetner said more than 100 companies in Alabama are currently not complying with the new law, causing their clients’ insurance to register as unconfirmed on OIVS.

A list of insurance companies not complying can be found at revenue.alabama.gov/motorvehicle/iac.cfm.

“Those businesses that are not complying with the law are potentially putting their customers at risk because if their customers are pulled over and the tag is run on their vehicle, they will have an unconfirmed and they will get a ticket if they don’t have a paper copy,” Fetner said. “(Motorists need to) make sure they have their paper copy of their insurance card in their vehicle.”

The new law is also another step toward eventually eliminating paper insurance cards, which are easily counterfeit, misplaced or used after their expiration dates, Fetner said.

“People have found ways to beat the system,” he said. “With the new computer database, there’s really no way to beat the system.”

According to Fetner, Alabama is not the first state to employ an online verification system for public safety purposes.

Alabama has about 16,000 law enforcement officers, 350 police departments and 67 sheriff’s offices, all of which should have access to OIVS.

Fetner said not having valid insurance is a secondary violation meaning an officer cannot pull a motorist over unless he or she has committed an unrelated violation.

“We cannot use this as probable cause,” Fetner said.

Benefits of the online verification system include a decrease in counterfeit insurance cards making it past law enforcement and a decrease in citations given to motorists who have valid insurance but might have forgotten to put their cards in their vehicles.

“The process is really simple for officers,” Fetner said. “This makes our job a little bit easier. It probably will speed everything up.”

Officers can access OIVS through MOVE (Mobile Officer Virtual Environment), a software framework designed for use on computers in patrol cars.

To view Act 2011-688 in its entirety, go to revenue.alabama.gov.

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