JEFFERSON CITY - More than 250,000 Missouri cars and light trucks were uninsured in 1996, the state's Insurance Department reported Tuesday.
The uninsured vehicles represent more than seven percent of all the registered vehicles in the state.
Despite the large number, it represented a 6.5 percent drop in the number of uninsured vehicles in the prior year.
Drivers who hope to skirt Missouri's insurance laws won't find as many loopholes to help them in January, when the new law, signed by Gov. Mel Carnahan earlier this year, takes effect.
Drivers will be required to present proof of insurance when they register their vehicles. Currently, they must only sign a statement saying they have insurance. Penalties under the new law are stiffer, too. Failure to show a law enforcement officer proof of insurance becomes a class C misdemeanor rather than a citation.
Calvin Call is the executive director of the Missouri Insurance Coalition representing about 100 insurers in the state. While he believes the new law is a step in the right direction, he said those who want to break the law will always find a way.
"It will make an impact on the problem, but it won't eradicate it," Call said. "It's a public service, a public education call." Uninsured out-of-state motorists, unlicensed drivers and persons who buy insurance then cancel the policy after registering will mean there will still be uninsured motorists driving in Missouri, Call said.
High interest in uninsured motorists was part of the impetus behind the new law, said Randy McConnell, spokesman for the Missouri Insurance Department.
"For many years we didn't put out the data, although we collected it," McConnell said. The perception that southeast Missouri had the highest rate of uninsured motorists was proven true by the data the department collected, McConnell said.
Because of the way the data are collected, the numbers for Boone County show that there are 215 more insurance policies than there are vehicles registered in the county. McConnell said the glitch is because a vehicle does not have to be registered in the same location that is listed for the auto insurance policy.
The overall state numbers, however, flush out correctly McConnell said, showing a 7.2 percent statewide rate for lack of insurance coverage. The department computer-matched auto insurance company policies with vehicle registration records to compile the numbers. Ten years ago, in 1987, about 12.7 private passenger vehicles were uninsured, according to the Insurance Department.