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County Joins State's Low-Cost Auto Insurance Program

May 1, 2007

By Allison Bruce, Ventura County Star, Calif.

May 2--For less than $300 a year, good drivers who meet low-income requirements can get insurance in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The counties were added to the state's Low Cost Automobile Insurance program at the end of March. The program is now available in 22 counties statewide.

Rates vary by county based on what it takes to cover losses and expenses. In Ventura County, the rate is $280 a year.

It usually takes about two to three months to get information about the program circulating in the community, according to the state insurance commissioner's office.

So far, there have been 133 inquiries from Ventura County residents.

The county's Human Services Agency is checking to see if people who use its job and career center services qualify for the insurance. The agency often will pay for the first month of a worker's car insurance.

"It comes out of a pot of money we use for ancillary and transportation costs," said Phyllis Dobbins, county human services employment specialist supervisor. "It's not a bottomless pit."

Not having to pay that first month of car insurance would free up money to help more people, she said.

It would mean more money for things like car repairs or buying things people need to get a job, such as shoes, uniforms or books.

Dobbins said the insurance program also frees up more of a family's money to pay for other needs.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said the goal of the program is to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the street.

"This is a crisis," Poizner said in a statement. "Many of these drivers simply cannot afford insurance, but they are placing themselves and fellow residents at risk when they drive."

Drivers without insurance run the risk of having their vehicle registrations suspended under state law.

Counties were selected for the program based on the number of uninsured motorists, number of low-income residents and availability of affordable insurance.

A review of coverage premiums in Ventura County found annual premiums for a married couple with no violations or accidents cost from $577 to $1,974 in Camarillo and from $642 to $2,141 in Oxnard.

The California Department of Insurance held community meetings last year to determine the need for the program in Merced, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Tulare and Ventura counties. In the six counties, there are more than 160,000 uninsured drivers, according to the commissioner's office.

The California Low Cost Automobile Insurance program was established in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1999. It works with licensed insurers who provide the policies as part of doing business in California. Eventually, the program could reach to all 58 counties in the state.

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To see more of the Ventura County Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.venturacountystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Ventura County Star, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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