Uninsured motorists a risk to insured drivers
A common criminal charge associated with Portuguese speaking drivers who require translation services is the unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, an examination of Edgartown District Court reports published in The Martha's Vineyard Times since the beginning of the year and conversations with knowledgeable court personnel reveal.
The presence of unlicensed drivers of any nationality on Island roads has ramifications beyond law enforcement. A valid license is required to purchase vehicle insurance and unlicensed drivers operating without insurance pose a significant risk to other motorists, should a serious accident occur.
Oak Bluffs police plan to begin distributing a pamphlet designed to ease the apprehension that members of the Island's Brazilian community tell police they experience, apart from fears stemming from unclear immigration status, when interacting with the police. The pamphlet, in English and Portuguese, provides a description of driving regulations and urges drivers to follow the law to avoid risk of arrest.
The pamphlet explains that if a person is living and working in Massachusetts, he or she must have a Massachusetts driver's license.
Normally, an insured driver who exhausts his or her coverage limits would be able to collect from the party who was at fault. When that party is an unlicensed operator, such as those who local police have encountered in increasing numbers recently, and has no insurance, the only recourse is to seek to recover any costs in court from the personal assets of the driver responsible. If that approach fails, the victim is simply left without payment, various Island insurance agents said.
According to a recent study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), a nonprofit organization that provides research findings on public policy issues that affect risk and insurance, if someone is injured in an auto accident, the chances are about one in seven that the at-fault driver is uninsured.
Island insurance agents said there are preventative measures properly insured drivers can take to limit the risk, but those measures involve increased costs.
Massachusetts law requires that all vehicles be insured. At a minimum, vehicle owners must have a policy that includes personal injury protection (PIP), which provides up to $8,000 in medical coverage for anyone in the car, no matter who was at fault in an accident. A second compulsory coverage is 'Bodily Injury Caused by an Uninsured Auto' which protects the driver against losses caused by an uninsured motorist. A minimum limit of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident is required.
Steve Schwab of Martha's Vineyard Insurance said this week that while an uninsured operator found responsible in a car accident would be required to take personal financial responsibility for the medical or repair costs of the victim, there are two types of additional insurance drivers may purchase to provide protection against uninsured motorists. Uninsured motorist coverage is a policy with various limits a subscriber may buy. Such insurance will pay for the subscriber's injuries if he or she is involved in an accident with an uninsured driver. Basically, Mr. Schwab said, a driver can collect on his own policy when the other motorist is at fault.
The coverage is common, but not enough people subscribe to that type of insurance, he said.
Underinsured motorist coverage is another option. It works like the uninsured policy and allows the subscriber to collect on his own policy when the at-fault motorist's coverage limit does not cover the full medical costs.
For example, a driver involved in a serious accident has $100,000 in medical bills but the driver who was at fault only has $25,000 in coverage. In that case, the insured can collect the remaining $75,000 from his own policy.
The Massachusetts Division of Insurance recommends that, "Since many people buy only the minimum required amounts for Bodily Injury to Others, selecting higher limits may protect you from incurring high personal injury expenses."
Joe Gervais, owner of Tashmoo Insurance in Vineyard Haven, said he encourages subscribers to buy policies that cover them in these circumstances. "In general people get that provision in their policy because it is relatively economical, compared to the alternative," he said.
Buying proper insurance is contingent on having a license, and as Amie Breton, director of public relations for the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) explained, a valid Social Security card or Visa is required to obtain the document.
Each RMV, including the one in Edgartown, is equipped with a verification program linked to the Social Security Administration, which confirms the validity of the number, Ms. Breton said.
If all the paperwork is in order, applicants must pass a written and road test to obtain a license. The written test is available in a number of languages, including Portuguese, and if approved by the examiner, a translator may ride along during the road test.
The 1949 Road Traffic Convention allows visitors from a limited list of foreign countries to legally drive in Massachusetts, using their own country's license, for up to one year. State Police Sergeant Neal Maciel said this is an acceptable form of license, but is invalid once that person takes up residence in the state. International driving licenses are not recognized by Massachusetts.