Driver denied right to show insurance card electronically

The in basket: An anonymous e-mailer says, “During a traffic stop, I was asked to show my insurance card. Since I was driving my girlfriends car, I could not find it at first. I did find it (but) it had expired in May.

“The Kitsap County sheriffs deputy  informed me that it would be a $550 ticket for not having insurance.

“I then got on my smart phone to contact my girl friend about the insurance card and she informed me that the card was in her purse. The officer informed me that I needed to shut off my phone, so I did.

“I wanted my girl friend to take a picture of the card and send it to my phone but the officer would not let me.

“My question is could I have used a photo of the insurance card to use as proof that the car had insurance?”

When I sent in his question, I also asked what reasons a deputy might have for requiring a driver to turn off his cell phone; whether it was a matter of office safety, for example.

The out basket: Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap sheriff’s office, says, “Washington State allows for operators of motor vehicles to provide proof of vehicle liability insurance using the display of electronic images on portable electronic devices, such as smart phones, tablets, iPads, etc.

“So, the short answer is… yes, the originator of the e-mail should have been allowed to provide proof of vehicle liability insurance using his smartphone.”

RCW 46.30.030 covers it, he said. That statute says, in part, “The card required by this section may be provided in either paper or electronic format. Acceptable electronic formats include the display of electronic images on a cellular phone or any other type of portable electronic device.”

Scott wouldn’t address why the deputy in this case wanted the driver’s smart phone turned off, without talking with the officer, whose identity he didn’t know. “Officer (and driver) safety always is paramount in these situations,” he said. “The reason the deputy asked the driver to disconnect his phone call was a decision, at that particular moment, made by the deputy with that in mind.

“Over the years, and during countless vehicle traffic stops, sheriff’s deputies (and police officers and WSP troopers) have encountered all manner of driver interactions and responses involving portable electronic devices.

“Here are just a handful of experiences (there have been many more):

– Officer attempts to stop a vehicle but the driver is oblivious as he / she is so engrossed with their cell phone… talking, texting, etc.

– Officer conducts a vehicle traffic stop and approaches the car and driver.  Driver is talking on cell phone and purposefully ignores the officer’s presence, even after several attempts by the officer to gain the driver’s cooperation. Stalling tactic.

– Officer stops a vehicle and approaches car, introduces himself / herself, and explains the reason for the traffic stop.  Driver produces required documentation then immediately calls their attorney.  At some point the driver ‘demands’ that the officer speak with the attorney (on the driver’s cell phone) before the driver will do anything further (like accept the ticket).

– Officer conducts vehicle traffic stop and initiates standard procedures.  At some point the driver contacts 9-1-1, trying to argue with the radio dispatcher about the validity of the stop, or the fact that the driver doesn’t believe that that officer is ‘real,’ or they want to speak with the on-duty sergeant, etc.  This usually is another stalling tactic.

“In many instances, the driver of a vehicle does have insurance, they just forgot to have the insurance card with them or in the vehicle.

“A driver issued a notice of infraction (for not having insurance) who, in fact, does have valid insurance in effect at the time of the stop, may go to Kitsap County District Court to contest the NOI, or offer a defense in mitigation.  With proof that valid vehicle liability insurance was in effect at the time of the stop, the court may reduce the monetary penalty, or possibly dismiss the NOI altogether.

“Best advice:  if you are using a vehicle that belongs to someone else…  make sure that you have the vehicle registration certificate and a valid vehicle liability insurance card to preclude a situation as presented in this scenario.”

5 thoughts on “Driver denied right to show insurance card electronically

  1. What would/could/should have happened if the driver had refused the deputy’s order to turn off the cellular phone?

    1. Does “Your comment is awaiting moderation” since August 3, 2015 mean you have no intention to answer my questions?

      1. I just came across this comment you left on the Road Warrior blog back in 2015. I can’t find another unapproved comment lower on the list that popped up on my computer for the first time. I don’t know what your questions were, bt if they still are current, send them to me at tvisb@wavecable.com

  2. So the law says that the driver has the right to provide proof of insurance via electronic means, yet law enforcement says they can “demand” that the driver turn off the device, therefore violating the rights of the driver, promised them by the law itself. Because the driver was ordered to shut the phone off, they were issued a Notice of Infraction. So what Wilson is saying, is the deputy can violate the rights of the driver, and the law, in the interest of their safety? And now, that a NOI has been issued, the driver, who was not allowed to prove that the vehicle was insured, which the law says they can do by electronic means, must now request a court hearing, take time off from work, risk paying a “reduced fine”, all because a deputy refused to follow the law? And the best you can come up with is it was likely to prevent a “stalling tactic”? If the deputy felt the location of the stop was unsafe, then they should have stopped the vehicle further down the road, or contacted the driver and said “This isn’t a safe spot for us to be stopped. I’m going to have you drive to wherever, and park your vehicle.” I’ve seen it done over the P.A., so I know it’s an option. It’s no wonder people don’t trust the police. My best advice? Follow the law and allow the driver to present proof of insurance, electronically if needed, AS REQUIRED BY THE LAW. It’s your job. You don’t get to make it up as you go along. I’m sorry, but policy doesn’t trump the law or our rights. I would also like to say that I am thankful for what you do and I value your safety out there and want to see each of you go home to your loved ones. Police work is dangerous. But please stop violating the rights of the citizens you serve because you value your safety more than ours, or our rights. And to the guy who got pulled over, stop doing whatever it was that got you pulled over. Then you won’t need to prove you have insurance.

    1. Steve nailed it. Officers don’t get to make up the law, and this citizen was under no obligation to follow the officer’s request to shut off his phone. None of Deputy Wilson’s hypothetical situations are relevant to this case, and none excuse the officer for not following the law.

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