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Car not insured? You'd better park it.

Attention, San Antonio motorists. If you have auto liability insurance coverage, read no further.

But if you don't, pay very close, attention.

Starting in January 2006, San Antonio Police Department patrol officers will crack down on motorists who operate motor vehicles without at least a $10,000 auto liability insurance policy.

That means if a motorist is caught without auto liability insurance on the streets of San Antonio, police officers will at minimum, force the driver to park it. Most likely, however, the uninsured car or truck will be towed.

It's already state law that a policeman can require a motorist to park an uninsured vehicle, but the San Antonio City Council approved a stepped-up program to enforce auto liability insurance requirements as part of the new City budget.

Budget Director Peter Zanoni says that there is $1.7 million in revenue from fines to be implemented as a revenue stream by January.

San Antonio Police Chief Albert Ortiz explains that at least 30 percent of drivers in Texas are operating their cars and trucks without liability insurance, and he wants to see that up to 90 percent of local motorists are complying with the law.

Assistant chief Tyrone Powers says that in San Antonio over the last four years, the police department has issued 59,000 citations per year to drivers on the road without insurance.

Get out the calculator. A citation for no insurance provides for a $269 fine. Count on an additional $71 for a tow truck, with a $20 impoundment fee, to boot. Leave it at the Growden Road storage facility near Kelly USA for three days, and chalk up another $45; that comes to a whopping $405 consequence for breaking the insurance law. Also, remember the storage facility is a mile from the nearest bus line, and the staff will require proof of ownership, proof of liability insurance, proof of registration, and will check for an updated inspection sticker.

A local insurance company says the average monthly payment for auto liability insurance totals $47 per month, for a total of $564 per year.

Cannot afford it? Better check those numbers again.

"State law allows towing right now," says Ortiz. He acknowledges that some drivers with lower incomes would find it difficult to pay for auto liability insurance, but the other side of the coin is that when uninsured drivers get into a wreck and hurt or even kill the other driver, a greater crime is committed. "When you put the breadwinner in the grave, you're taking away their family's livelihood. Dead people don't get a second or third chance. It happens all over the city."

Mayor Phil Hardberger agrees. "When I was a judge, I got a lot of experience with uninsured motorists. It seems the human thing is to give them (uninsured motorists) another chance, but another side is when a motorist is uninsured, they hit someone and they get hurt, maimed, killed, or they are crippled for life, there is no way for redress. It happens every day in San Antonio, we're one of the worst cities in the country. No insurance, no money, you get zero."

District 7 Councilwoman Elena Guajardo and a handful of other council members were uncomfortable with this hard line. "I'm uncomfortable with this. Let us pause and think this out. How would it be the best policy for our citizens?"

Hardberger was unmoved. "I don't know how you can get smarter on that issue overnight. It will not change the essential issue of whether to punish the person who didn't have the insurance or punish the person who gets hit."

The mayor says he realizes that it's a financial burden on people who cannot afford insurance. But the best alternative might be to park the car and take the bus. "It's a hardship to take the car away, but it's very hard on the burglar's family when the burglar is put in prison."

"This puts the burden on law breakers," Powers explained. "There are training procedures to be put in place for police officers (when enforcement is stepped up in January). We will not leave a woman and her two kids stranded on the road at midnight. We will make sure they're not in harm's way."

But, they won't be driving away in an uninsured automobile.

By Michael Cary

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