A new car insurance law all Tennessee drivers should know about


If you live in Nashville (or anywhere else in Tennessee) and drive a car, 2017 brought an important change you should know about: the implementation of the James Lee Atwood Jr. Law, aimed at whittling down the number of uninsured drivers in our state.

Up to now, we’ve had a startling number of those uninsured drivers — according to legislative analysis done around the time the Atwood Law passed, in 2015, more than 1 million uninsured vehicles were on the road in Tennessee, with around 20 percent of our drivers shirking their car-insurance responsibility. That puts us near the top of an unflattering list, with the sixth highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country. This law means to change that.

The Atwood law went into effect as of Jan. 1, 2017, and here are the basics you should be aware of, as a Tennessee driver and car owner: The Tennessee Department of Revenue will now be regularly verifying your car insurance with a new online system, and law enforcement agencies can access and review that information regularly as well (not just when you go to renew your registration). Those drivers who can’t verify coverage will end up facing increased fines, ramping up if the issue isn’t addressed. Prior to the new law, fines were as high as $100; now uninsured motorists can end up paying three times that. Beyond the fines, failure to provide proof of insurance can ultimately lead to suspension of your vehicle registration.

The new law is about enforcement

That Tennessee drivers are required to carry car insurance before they put their feet on the pedals is nothing new — the Financial Responsibility Law, tracing back to 1977, set that expectation. But it hadn’t been adequately enforced, according to many across the state. The Atwood Law addresses enforcement.

If you’ve been keeping your coverage current, you won’t need to stress about it. "If you've never been out of compliance then you probably won't see a difference," State Representative William Lamberth told NewsChannel 5. But "if you are one of the drivers on the roadway uninsured, then you will get caught, and before you get tags renewed, you'll have to have insurance on that vehicle."

With car insurance, one size does not fit all

The Atwood Law doesn’t change the minimum limits of liability coverage. Those are still:

$25,000.00 for one injury or death

$50,000.00 for all injuries or deaths

$15,000.00 for property damage for one accident

But something I urge all drivers to consider: One size absolutely does not fit all when it comes to this stuff.

If an accident happens, and a lawsuit follows, a claimant doesn’t automatically seek that minimum dollar figure. The Financial Responsibility Law isn’t saying, “This is what a personal injury costs so you can only expect this figure.” It’s just setting a coverage baseline, generally meant to cover, in the most basic sense, other people’s property, their medical/related costs, and your legal defense if you’re sued. But claims can vary widely, depending on your personal assets. So if your assets are considerable, but your coverage is not, you can be leaving yourself vulnerable. Your insurance won’t cover claims that stretch beyond your coverage limits. Those costs will end up in your lap.

This is part of why I’m a big proponent of turning to an insurance expert for individualized guidance. Someone like me (and, conveniently enough, specifically me) can talk you through what level of protection makes the most sense for your specific situation, and help you find the best price/options for that level of coverage.  

As far as the new law goes, you can get more info at DriveInsuredTN.com, including how to respond to notifications if you get one. But I’m hoping that I can help keep you clear of that. Give me a call or send me an email, and we can talk about your car insurance options, and find something that keeps you properly protected, and keeps you on the road.