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Police officers in Michigan can see if you have car insurance before you show proof of it

Juan Alvarez
Creative Commons

Police in Michigan are using an easy way to check whether a motor vehicle is properly insured.

Michigan State Police and other agencies can tell whether most vehicles are insured by running a license plate number through an in-car computer.

“We’re kind of excited about it, given its ability to help us target fraudulent insurance or people, frankly, who are driving around with no insurance, which is dangerous for everybody,” said Sargent Amy Dehner, a legislative liaison with the Michigan State Police.

State law still requires drivers carry proof of insurance.

Insurance companies have to send information to the secretary of state’s office twice a month already. While that practice had been in place for some time, officials say the information wasn't previously immediately available through the Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN. Now, that information is available to cops when they run your plate.

“Michigan State Police officers don’t treat it as a primary reason for a stop but it’s a really good reason to take a close look at what you’re being handed at the window,” Dehner said.

Dehner says they’ve been able to crack down on people using fake insurance cards or who were conned into buying a policy from a fake insurer.

“Things that could be made on a home computer, things that people were buying on Craigslist, fake insurance storefronts,” Dehner said. She says this change was made after officials from the Secretary of State’s office recommended it.

Dehner says at least thirty other states have similar programs that allow “real time” insurance checks.

From September 2013 to March 2014, Michigan State Police issued tickets to more than 8,000 people for not having insurance. During the same period from 2014 to 2015, that increased 15%. But, Dehner also notes that an extra 100 state troopers were on the road during that time. She says it’s tough to tell if the increase in citations was due to the change in the system or the increase in the number of officers on the road.

The system does not show instant results for fleet vehicles, commercial vehicles or motorcycles.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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