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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Crash course on
auto insurance

THE idea of "pay at the pump" automobile insurance seems to be that insurance is an all or nothing proposition.

The current system doesn't work because everyone is supposed to buy their own insurance but thousands don't. So you get nitwits without insurance crashing into people who have insurance and the guy with insurance foots the entire bill because the nitwit usually doesn't have anything worth suing for.

The current system should work. At a recent public hearing on the "pay at the pump" proposal, Makiki resident Tom Caldwell said "we don't have uninsured motorists, we have uninsured vehicles." He's right. You buy insurance for your car, and the amount you pay is based on the car's model and age.

As such, police should be able to confiscate any car that does not have insurance. That means, if you're pulled over for speeding and it turns out you don't have insurance, you're hoofing it home, buddy. If you lend your uninsured car to your friend and he gets pulled over, tough luck, your car still is impounded until you get insurance. Or, better yet, it's put in quarantine for a few months just to remind you that A) having insurance is important and B) you were a nitwit for lending your car to a friend.

There is absolutely no reason why any uninsured cars are on the road under the current system. Sure, cops can't tell whether a car is insured or not by appearances. But if they started impounding every uninsured car they pull over, there'd suddenly be a lot more pedestrians on the island. Pretty soon, car people would realize that trying to save a few bucks by not buying insurance isn't worth becoming bus people.

THE "pay at the pump" idea is a desperate attempt to insure everyone who drives by squeezing insurance payments out of them in the form of a gas tax. Every time you fill up, you'd be paying 9 or 10 cents more per gallon for insurance coverage on the vehicle. This actually is a pretty nifty idea because even nitwits have not figured out how to drive a car without putting gasoline in it.

But commuters from outlying areas complain that they would have to pay more for gas than townies. It seems to me that it would be fairly easy to adjust the amount charged per gallon based on how far the station is from, say, Kamehameha's statue. That way, townies might pay 10 cents a gallon more, but the insurance gas tax in Waianae would only be 6 cents a gallon. Real penny pinchers might travel all the way to Haleiwa to fill up until they figured out that it costs them a tank of gas just to get out there and back. In any case, setting all the computer-operated pumps to charge different amounts of insurance tax can't be any harder than downloading Windows '98.

There is another option to this auto insurance problem that few people are willing to discuss. If auto insurance is an "all or nothing" proposition and right now we are not getting the "all," maybe we should consider the "nothing." That is, no auto insurance, period.

That means that if you crash your car, you pay for it. You cause an accident, you pay for the other guy. Sure, some people would go broke paying doctor bills. Others would lose their houses in lawsuits. But just think how polite all the rest of the drivers on the road would be, knowing they're one fender-bender away from bankruptcy.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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