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That Auto Insurance Card May Soon Be Obsolete

Most states require drivers to provide proof of insurance coverage. That used to mean keeping a paper copy of your insurance card in the glove compartment or other handy location in your automobile. Now it could mean showing the police officer your smartphone.

Three U. S. states have already passed laws that allow electronic evidence of auto insurance to be accepted. Louisiana, Idaho, and Arizona put these laws into effect in July and August 2012 with California currently considering a similar bill. In Colorado and Alabama, drivers can use electronic proof of insurance when they register their vehicles.

Clearly, these laws do provide benefits. Drivers don’t have to worry about digging around for a paper card if they get pulled over. Instead, they can turn on their smartphone, tablet, or similar device. Ideally, this would make the situation move faster. They would also have nearly instant access to their insurance proof instead of having to wait to receive the card by mail or printing off copies. Since most people always carry their phones, they would also have constant access to their proof of insurance. This may be a particularly important benefit in Louisiana where a new law also requires the impounding of a vehicle if the driver cannot produce proof of insurance.

However, some California officials have raised concerns about motorists’ privacy. If they hand over their smartphone to the officer, the possibility exists that personal information not related to the traffic stop might also be discovered. The chances of an officer snooping on a driver’s phone during a stop might seem far-fetched but the possibility for accidental incrimination does exist.  A poorly timed text message from a friend discussing marijuana use, for example, could pop up while the officer is looking at the phone. Despite those concerns, the California Senate passed the bill on August 9th.

Most of the largest insurance companies offer customers the option of having an electronic copy of their insurance card. In some cases, the companies offer apps for smartphones and tablets that will make it even easier for drivers to access their insurance proof. For those without such luxuries, most of these states do give drivers the option to scan and upload electronic copies of their insurance policy or card. Of course, all of the states still accept the traditional paper copy of the card.

Except for minor privacy concerns, efforts to make electronic proof legally acceptable have met with positive feedback from the insurance industry, lawmakers, and consumers. That means California is unlikely to be the last state to join the ranks who accept this form of proof. In the future, paper insurance cards will no longer be necessary. As more cars offer built-in Internet connectivity, the future may have proof of insurance available right from the vehicle instead of needing a second device.

In general, this move towards greater consumer convenience is probably a signal of what the future holds for drivers, insurance providers, and law enforcement.