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ConsumerWatch: California Drivers Can Now Show Electronic Proof Of Insurance

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - California drivers who are pulled-over by police can now provide electronic proof of car insurance. And the day may be coming soon when they'll also be able to show electronic proof of car registration.

Last year, California became one of the first states to allow drivers to show proof of insurance coverage on their cell phones. In all, 25 states now permit the practice and more are being added every month, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association, a trade group that supports the use of digital cards.

Susie Kim found out about the new law a little too late. When the busy Alameda County mom was stopped recently by a police officer, she couldn't produce the necessary documents.

"The registration -- I could not find in the craze of the situation, and then the insurance card was outdated," Kim told ConsumerWatch.

But Kim wasn't too worried. She knew both her registration and her insurance were in effect, and she knew she'd be able to prove it. And the officer who stopped Kim indicated the citation he gave, headlined "Notice to Appear," wouldn't be too expensive.

"He said it was correctable, so it sounded like it wasn't going to be a big ticket," Kim explained.

But about six weeks later, Kim got a "Courtesy Notice," from Alameda County that indicated otherwise. On the front it offered three options: "Pay $1,096." or "Pay $925 with proof of correction," or "Choose a trial option," "I was shocked," Kim admitted.

The reverse of the statement offers more details in smaller type. It says "the court may dismiss license, registration and mechanical violations if proof of correction and the dismissal fee are submitted to the court."

It doesn't explain what fees drivers who comply would face. Mike Fergusson of the California Highway Patrol said the notice could have been clearer, but is "technically correct" because there are so many variables involved when a driver cited.

Kim contends the lack of information and the expensive fees can unnecessarily scare drivers.

"Many people have told me that they have paid because they did not want to go to court, and then it took months to get their payment back."

When Kim went to court to show her registration and insurance proof in person, she got a pleasant surprise. After showing her documents, and paying a $50 administrative fee, she was off the hook.

"I was happy to hear it was only $50, but I would have appreciated an explanation of the process, so I wouldn't have panicked at seeing the $1000 fine," Kim said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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