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Tags to be scanned to identify uninsured

First of two parts

Oklahoma has finalized a deal with a Massachusetts company to use license-plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers, and the firm expects to issue 20,000 citations a month starting as early as next year.

Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion Program

The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, involves setting up automated scanners on highways around the state to detect uninsured vehicles and mailing their owners a citation with a fine of $184, according to the District Attorneys Council.

Gatso USA, a Beverly, Massachusetts-based company that specializes in red-light-running and speeding detection systems, will initially get $80, or 43 percent, of each fine. Its cut will decrease to $74 after two years and $68 after five years, according to a contract approved by the state after months of legal review and negotiation. The company could expect to bring in $1.6 million a month, or $19 million a year, if the 20,000 citations are issued monthly. Gatso is a subsidiary of a Dutch company.

Drivers who pay the fees will avoid having a charge of driving without insurance on their permanent records.

When the first citations will be issued remains unclear. Gatso executives were unavailable for an interview.

The purpose of the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion Program, approved by the state Legislature in 2016, is to reduce the high number of uninsured motorists in Oklahoma. A 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 26 percent of all drivers in the state are uninsured  the highest rate in the nation  which can push up insurance premiums and hit-and-run accidents.

But another incentive underlies the program. It will be overseen by the District Attorneys Council rather than law enforcement, and the state's 27 district attorneys' offices are expected to receive millions of dollars in citation revenue a year, although no estimates were provided. District attorneys have complained that their revenue sources are diminishing because of state budget cuts and the drop in bounced-check fines.

Before citations are issued, technical details need to be ironed out, and testing will be done. Ultimately, both mobile and fixed cameras will be placed around the state. There are no startup costs to state government, and Gatso will handle a public-awareness campaign that will precede implementation of the program.

Details gleaned from public records, including the contract and Gatso's proposal, shed further light on what Oklahomans can expect.

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