Rekor, which provides controversial license plate-scanning technology, today announced that the state of Oklahoma will use its software to spot uninsured motorists on the road. Oklahoma’s Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion Program encourages uninsured drivers who are cited to avoid court appearances by acquiring insurance and paying a $174 fee. As part of this effort, Rekor will identify the vehicle’s make, model, and color and regularly update the insurance database connected to the state’s various enforcement programs.
Oklahoma’s program, which launched in November 2018, was created after the state ranked highest in the nation for uninsured motorists, with 2016 statistics showing that one out of four drivers was operating a vehicle without insurance. But studies also found evidence of structural racism in auto insurance that leads to higher premiums and subsequently higher gaps in coverage for Black drivers and other targeted groups.
Rekor, which will receive a $43 processing fee for each auto insurance violation, will deploy technology — including cameras — to identify and process notices issued to uninsured drivers on the road. (Oklahoma law enforcement will issue “notices to respond” when cars are identified, encouraging owners to get insurance and comply with the law.) Rekor will also provide a web portal to find nonstandard and standard insurance for cars and says it will retain data — which cannot be used for other purposes, according to Oklahoma law — as long as a car remains out of compliance.
“The goal of this … program is for all drivers to have at least the minimum required amount of liability insurance,” Kay and Noble county district attorney Brian Hermanson said. “When an uninsured motorist causes a crash, innocent motorists are often forced to pay for repair bills, property damage, and hospital bills. The new … program will help change that, and we believe it will also create safer roads for all drivers in Oklahoma.”
Maryland-based Rekor previously made headlines with a home surveillance service that monitors car owners and a collaboration with Mastercard to let restaurants build customer profiles from license plates. Rekor trumpets the insurance program as an expansion of its work with law enforcement agencies to provide vehicle recognition services “supporting public safety.” Rekor’s software is used by over 69 counties throughout the U.S., and it leverages an over 30-state real-time database that collects more than 150 million license plates every month. While opponents warn the program could disproportionately infringe upon the privacy of drivers with lower incomes, a Rekor spokesperson says the company is in talks with four other states to implement similar systems.
The average cost of auto insurance in Oklahoma is $1,531 a year (12.6% above the national average), and only 11 states have a lower median household income than Oklahoma ($48,568), according to the U.S. Census Bureau and Insure.com. Three states — California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii — prohibit the use of credit history in auto insurance rating, and New York and Michigan prevent carriers from using education level or occupation to determine ratings, but Oklahoma offers no such protections.
Rekor says it has tasked a national broker with ensuring “all” uninsured drivers who visit the online portal are “underwritten fairly.” But the company declined to provide the name of the broker, and mistakes have already been made. KFOR-TV reported that one in 20 drivers flagged as uninsured by the system in 2019 was wrongly reported, in some cases because they’d personally registered vehicles but commercially insured them.
Drivers can also be required to pay more for auto insurance simply because of their home ZIP code. Research from the Consumer Federation of America points to differences in each region among neighbors living within 100 yards of each other, sometimes as close as across the street or even next door. In each city tested, the higher-priced ZIP code had a lower median income and a higher percentage of nonwhite residents than the neighboring, lower-premium ZIP code.
“When we create this panopticon of vehicle tracking, you create the opportunity to track innocent [and disenfranchised] people in public,” Surveillance Technology Oversight Project executive director Albert Fox Cahn said of Rekor in a recent interview with CNET. “It’s far past time for our court systems to catch up and realize that when people are deploying these AI systems in the public space, they are stripping countless bystanders of their privacy.”