Uninsured driving is not OK: How Oklahoma reduces risky traffic stops
Identifying uninsured vehicles without direct interaction can eliminate negative associations with law enforcement
By Amanda Arnall Couch
Traffic stops are one of the most common interactions Americans have with law enforcement. On any given day, 50,000 drivers may be stopped for traffic violations. Many of these offenses are minor, yet roadside checks increasingly expose the public and police officers to risk.
To mitigate these incidents, advocates are pushing for reforms such as improving officer bias awareness and changing law enforcement policies and practices – but will these measures mitigate the tensions that often arise during traffic stops? Perhaps the better option is to minimize stops altogether: the fewer the stops, the fewer the opportunities for problems. Technology can enable contactless policing – but how?
In 2018, Oklahoma kicked off the Oklahoma Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion (UVED) Program to address its substantial problem with uninsured driving. Powered by contactless technology, the program uses roadside cameras and requires no intervention by officers. The results are exceeding all previous measures, reaping benefits for citizens and officers alike.
Using contactless policing technology to reduce traffic stops
Thanks to trailblazing legislation, the UVED Program, which is managed by the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council (DAC), uses low-cost vehicle and license plate recognition technology to proactively identify uninsured drivers.
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The program was initiated in response to studies showing a staggering 26% of Oklahomans were driving without insurance – one of the highest rates in the country.
While the goal of the UVED Program is for more Oklahomans to get insured, this contactless approach has the additional benefit of reducing the incidence of potentially risky encounters between citizens and law enforcement.
As many police departments know, identifying uninsured motorists on the road is not easy. Typically, uninsured Oklahoma drivers are pulled over for unrelated incidents, such as speeding, and handed hefty fines when they fail to show evidence of insurance. This can happen to a single driver multiple times, putting that driver in the path of repeated confrontations with law enforcement, potentially escalating even minor traffic stops.
The UVED Program takes a different approach.
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Focus on the vehicle, not the driver
The District Attorneys Council sought technology that could help address the problem while minimizing law enforcement involvement; in 2020, DAC settled on license plate and vehicle recognition solutions from Rekor Systems.
As motorists travel on Oklahoma’s roads and highways, fixed and mobile IP-enabled cameras capture images that identify each vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate numerics. Video analytics capabilities automatically compare those images to Oklahoma’s real-time insurance verification system. Any image that does not match an uninsured vehicle is discarded; images returning to an uninsured vehicle are then directed to the UVED Program.
By using technology that focuses on the vehicle, not the driver, the UVED Program goes a long way toward eliminating potential bias. Once the image of an uninsured vehicle has been quality-checked and approved, Rekor’s system automatically sends a letter (“Notice”) to the registered owner. The Notice outlines how citizens can avoid the fines and other consequences associated with criminal charges by enrolling in the diversion program, all without direct interaction with law enforcement.
To assist in the resolution of UVED matters, citizens may be offered information about low-cost insurance options from several participating carriers. While many citizens take advantage of this option, others proactively secure coverage on their own; the UVED Program does not require coverage from any particular carrier, only that citizens acquire and maintain coverage that complies with Oklahoma law. Information about low-cost providers is offered as a service to Oklahomans to return legal motorists to the roadways as expeditiously as possible.
To raise awareness and improve understanding, the UVED Program conducts extensive public outreach via print, television and social media. Similar communication strategies are used by law enforcement agencies across the U.S. when employing technology to locate stolen vehicles and address AMBER/SILVER alerts. The hands-off nature of such technology reduces the risk for officers and citizens nationwide.
The payoff has been significant
Today, the UVED Program has 50 cameras across Oklahoma, with at least one camera in each judicial and prosecutorial district. Because UVED used existing resources along with new cameras, the solution was launched in just two months; moreover, it can be quickly and cost-effectively scaled to increase coverage. Moving forward, the Program hopes to interlink technology across state borders to detect the uninsured motorists from neighboring states who travel on Oklahoma’s roads.
The results so far are impressive. Since 2018, the number of uninsured drivers on Oklahoma roads has fallen by more than 100,000, and that number continues to decrease. Increases in safety have been accompanied by increases in revenue, as well; the UVED Program has realized approximately $3.3M for the state – money that is used to fund the Program, to maintain the insurance verification system, and to support Oklahoma’s public service pension fund.
Motorists are happy, too. Previously uninsured drivers indicated that they didn’t know how to get help and avoid fines; one Oklahoman commented that she knew her lack of coverage was a problem, and had received multiple fines, but didn't know how to get back on track. Under the umbrella of the UVED Program, the state worked with her to establish a payment plan and provide access to low-cost insurance.
States look to similar contactless enforcement programs
Other states, including Florida (now the number one state for uninsured motorists), New York, Tennessee and Texas – and even cities with home rule – are looking to follow Oklahoma’s lead and legislate similar programs. UVED willingly shares its policies, practices and results with all interested authorities, in keeping with its view that uninsured motorists are a national public safety issue.
Proactive contactless enforcement, like Oklahoma’s UVED Program, can have a positive impact on police-community relationships. Identifying uninsured vehicles without direct interaction reduces feelings of bias and can eliminate negative associations with law enforcement, all while making the road a safer place for everyone.
Next: Using police observations on traffic stops to inform policy
About the author
Amanda Arnall Couch is the Oklahoma UVED Program Director.