'I'nsure you're covered
YOKOTA AIR BASE - He drives through a stop sign without stopping. A car with the right-away doesn't see him. His car is side swiped, sending glass shards and metal fragments through the air and across the road. A nearby sign is smashed in the process. No one is harmed, but both cars are totaled. Everything should be alright, because he obviously had insurance ... right?
Service members, especially those serving overseas in Japan, are expected to maintain current auto insurance. It may seem like an obvious requirement, but one that when forgotten or neglected, leads to misfortunate situations for those involved.
According to Staff Sgt. Francis Maher, 374th Airlift Wing Safety Office ground safety technician, maintaining current Japanese compulsory insurance and mandatory liability insurance is required by United States Forces, Japan, Instruction 31-205 and Yokota Air Base Instruction 31-204. This covers all USFJ personnel who operate a vehicle regardless of rank.
"I have heard of some people deploying and leaving their cars with friends or family," Maher said, explaining possible reasons service members may allow their insurance to expire. "Their JCI or liability insurance lapsed while deployed and police caught the vehicles while another person was driving it. It still ended up being the owner's fault that insurance was not current even though it was left with another person. It would be highly advisable to leave your vehicle with someone who can ensure to keep your insurance and road tax current while you are gone to avoid any headaches on your part."
Maher said individuals without insurance are likely to lose their on-base driving privileges. Individuals driving with expired JCI or liability insurance will be punished differently depending on the length of time that has passed since the insurance expired. It could vary from a warning, a multi-month driving suspension or an individual's vehicle being towed.
Driving without insurance is bad for more reasons than simply losing driving privileges, according to Maher.
"You may be criminally prosecuted in Japanese court especially if you were impaired or charged with reckless driving," Maher said. "If the accident occurs on base, or if the Japanese waive jurisdiction to the U.S., you could face non-judicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as applicable. In any event, you will be responsible for paying for the property damage you cause."
The criminal consequences of driving illegally are a real threat, but financial pains are also involved, according to Maher. He said it is a good idea for service members to maintain current insurance because the majority of people cannot afford the costs of being involved in an accident that would involve vehicle damage and possibly physical injury.
Melissa Still, Airman Family and Readiness financial advisor, has tips for those who have financial difficulty when it comes to maintaining current insurance. A few easy steps to ensure money is laying around in time for an insurance payment are:
* Plan ahead.
* Start a vehicle fund before purchasing a vehicle. This fund would take into consideration: purchase price, taxes, up-keep (to include gasoline, repairs, oil changes) and insurance coverage price.
* Put it in the budget. Insurance payments should be included in the emergency fund.
* Set up an allotment. Making payments automatic takes away the possibility of omission and late fees.
* Take advantage of discounts. Many insurance companies offer discounted premiums for policyholders that buy multiple policies.
* Shop around for the lowest possible coverage - get quotes.
Maher recommended people always ask their insurance company if unsure when to renew their JCI or liability. He said some insurance companies send customers mail reminders when their insurance is due or customers can ask for a reminder via a phone call or e-mail. Checking insurance paperwork from time-to-time and understanding the stickers on the front of vehicles will also help individuals know when to renew their insurance.
Still said service members should understand the four parts to automobile insurance: liability for bodily harm and property damage, medical payments, uninsured or underinsured and physical damage to include collision and comprehensive.
"Bottom line - it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle without assuming financial responsibility for any losses you (the driver) may cause," Still added. "So not having any will also put you in a legal bind as well as a financial bind."