COLUMBIA- A bill on Gov. Nikki Haley's desk would allow South Carolina drivers to use their smartphone in a traffic stop to prove they have vehicle insurance.
While TV commercials suggest officers already accept electronic proof, South Carolina is not among the 30 states currently allowing the convenience.
State law requires drivers to keep proof of insurance in their vehicles at all times, which they must be able to show an officer on demand.
The Senate gave final approval last week to the bill specifying insurers can provide coverage policies through a smartphone, which drivers can use as proof.
The option means drivers don't have to keep up with a paper card that must be replaced every six months, said Oyango Snell, regional manager of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, said Monday that he became curious about South Carolina's law after seeing insurance commercials on the option. He introduced the legislation a year ago after learning it wasn't legal here. The House passed it unanimously last April.
Atwater recalled a traffic stop that sent him searching through his glove box to find the paper form, which he eventually did.
"Why do you have to scramble every time?" he said, calling his proposal a "common sense, flexible bill."
His bill also includes a privacy protection clause. An officer handed a smartphone for insurance purposes does not have permission to search the phone for any other information.
Snell called the option a growing movement.
No state allowed it in 2011. In 2012, seven states approved laws or regulations allowing digital proof of insurance. South Carolina could become the first state to approve it for 2014. Legislation is pending in 10 other states, according to the insurers association. Other states to already allow it include Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia.
"Consumers would like to have the ease and convenience. Having a smartphone is a necessity for many people these days," Snell said.
He said some insurance companies may offer a savings perk to customers who opt to forgo the paper option altogether, because the insurer would save on printing and mailing expenses. Any incentive will depend on the carrier, he said.
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