TIFTON -- Anyone applying for a tag or getting behind the wheel of a vehicle should be aware of new proof-of-insurance requirements that take effect Thursday.

The insurance card from an agent won't be enough to purchase a tag or prove to a law enforcement agent that the vehicle is properly insured. If your insurance company hasn't listed you in the state's database as having current insurance, you will have to correct the problem before being sold a tag and you may face penalties for driving without proper insurance.

Tift County Tax Commissioner Gene Goode said that staff members in his office have been informing people for a year to make sure the state's database has the customer's correct insurance information.

"We try to help customers, but there's nothing we can do as of Friday if it isn't in the database," Goode said.

After several false starts, the state is finally switching to a paperless system of keeping up with auto insurance records in real-time. The system was designed to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road. Under the old system, people would buy insurance, get the card and use that card to get a tag.

"Then they would cancel the insurance but they still had the card and tag," said Susan Sports, a spokeswoman for the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety. "If they got stopped by a law enforcement officer, they'd just show the card."

Goode believes there is only a "very small percentage" of people who have valid insurance not listed in the database.

"If it isn't in there, it means the insurance company didn't download it into our system," Goode said.

Goode recommends that anyone who has changed insurance companies recently, or otherwise believes their information may not be correct in the database, to call the insurance company for confirmation before standing in line to purchase a tag. He also advises customers to check the vehicle identification number on the vehicle to make sure it agrees with both the title number and the tag renewal number on the notice his office mails.

Starting Thursday, law enforcement officers who stop someone will be required to check the database to ensure that vehicles are properly insured. Sports said that even though the insurance cards won't be proof of insurance, insurance companies will continue to issue them and motorists are required to carry them. People without the cards can still be fined by law enforcement officers.

In mid-November, with 6.7 million vehicles in the database, the state matched valid insurance policies for all but 470,000. Some of those included used cars on lots or cars which had been junked by their owners, Sports said.

Sports said that seven percent of the vehicles on the road are uninsured compared to 15 to 20 percent a few years ago. The system was supposed to go into effect in 2002 and again in 2003, but both times there were extensions because the database system wasn't available.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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