THE BLOG

Driving Dirty in the Lower 48

05/26/2015 07:45 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

There are 253 million cars and trucks on U.S. roadways today. Mexico has over 30 million, the same total number of as California and Canada individually. World wide, there are over a billion automobiles currently in operation. By 2050 there will be about 2.5 billion collectively sucking up about 120 million barrels of oil per day while pumping billions into the world economy in mandatory insurance fees.

Travel trepidations in over trafficked cities like Los Angeles include the unpredictability of gas prices, environmental impact, deteriorating roads, carjacking and other scams and fraud, over policing, drunk drivers, and that fact that 14 percent of the driving population in the U.S. is uninsured. In California, 15 percent of drivers are uninsured. If you leave the state and drive across the country your chances are 1 in 7 of encountering an uninsured in 42 percent of states. That presents more than a few big problems for poor people many of whom need to drive to survive.

Compulsory auto insurance and the consequent financial penalties applied to those who can't afford it are part of a larger systemic criminalization of poverty. If you're among the 15 percent of all Americans living below the poverty line you might find yourself in the unfortunate situation to have choose car insurance over medicine, rent or other essentials like food for your children.

If you need to drive your car or truck for the work you do and make that hard choice to drive uninsured, your behavior is criminalized. If you're caught, the money you are forced to pay in fines is funneled back into the system. The funds generated by the municipal court are the thing that's driving this robotic cycle of legal oppression. Law enforcement, which gave you the ticket will benefit from your loss.

And it gets worse; you may even have your driving privilege revoked and you car confiscated. In California if you're caught driving without insurance (VC 16028(A) Failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility) the base fine is $796.00, and that just for starters. With assessments and court fees you could easily end up paying well over a $1,000.00

If you want to leave the country, drive to Mexico, authorities there don't recognize US or Canadian auto insurance. You have to get insurance in Mexico. If you don't and you get in an accident you can be prevented from leaving the country even if you need medical treatment.

In the U.S., Canada or Mexico, the consequences for driving dirty can be devastating if you're financially challenged. Luckily there is some good news. Some states like California, New Jersey, and Hawaii offer low-income auto insurance programs for those living near and beneath the poverty line.