The compulsory automobile insurance issue, like many others, has been complicated and made more difficult of settlement by the antagonism which exists between the private interests involved and the public which is seeking a satisfactory remedy for a seriously unhealthy social situation.
No large group of persons stands as sponsors for compulsory automobile insurance in any of its forms, although an association has been formed to promote the compensation insurance idea. There is a strong undercurrent of public opinion to the effect that something needs to be done to curb the growing menace of the automobile, and that compulsory insurance of some sort will help in that direction.
Some people oppose it particularly on the ground that such insurance would not prevent accidents, which end is the basic issue in the problem. The strongest opposition comes from a source least expected. The insurance companies have definitely declared against compulsory insurance. Their attitude has added new fuel to the controversy. It has raised the old issue of the “vested interests” versus the public. A brief comment on this situation may not be out of place here.
The proponents of compulsory automobile insurance are criticizing the officials of the insurance companies for selfishly seeking their own interests when they write and speak against compulsory insurance, and their utterances, whether true or false, dubbed “propaganda.” It is probably a correct assumption that people in the insurance business know more about automobile insurance than do those outside the field. They have the right to be heard.
Their pronouncements should be given careful consideration.
On the other hand, the private interests present the argument that legislation should never invade the realm of private enterprise, that any change contrary to the welfare of private interests is socialistic, and perhaps unconstitutional.
But, the rights of private interests are not sacred when they conflict with those of the public at large. That a thing is socialistic is not in itself a condemnation. State universities, for example, are socialistic, yet they are not being criticized because of that fact.
Constitutionality is a changing thing. Court decisions are not self-perpetuating; if they were, there would be no insurance companies in business today because the early courts held insurance contracts to be illegal. This is a changing world and all types of human institutions must change with it.
Were a little more tolerance shown in the controversy, were the arguments a little more objective and less personal, it would be much easier to arrive at an understanding of the really important issues. Neither side has a monopoly of the truth. In fact, up to the present, not enough of the right kind of information on the subject exists to serve as a basis for forming sound judgments. It is hoped that this work may add something to our common store of information on the subject.
Both the brief and the supporting arguments consider both liability and compensation insurance together, proceeding from the liability plan to the compensation plan. This arrangement was adopted because one finds that, with very few exceptions, the arguments used against liability insurance apply with equal force against compensation insurance, in spite of the fundamental differences between the two types.
That is, the arguments against compensation insurance will include just about all that may be said against liability insurance, plus some additional arguments applying only to compensation insurance. On the affirmative side, the arguments for the compensation principle include much that can be said in favor of the liability plan, plus other arguments for compensation insurance only. Several of these arguments for compensation may be construed to be points against liability insurance. For example, the argument that compensation insurance would reach practically all victims of motor accidents may be used as a point against the limited coverage of liability insurance.
Some of the opponents of compulsory liability insurance have unwittingly fallen into this difficulty. They have censured the liability principle on the ground that it would help only a small number of the victims of auto accidents, and then proceeded to oppose compensation insurance because of its more complete coverage. On the other hand, the argument that compulsory liability insurance would congest the courts, would lead to fraudulent claims, and cause delays, in reality turns out to be a strong argument for compulsory compensation insurance.
In view of the above explanation, it can be seen that compensation insurance in many respects amounts to an extension of liability insurance. At least it appears so upon examination of the respective arguments. In spite of this relationship, the principles involved are not identical, a fact which is recognized by most students of the question.
To those who believe that this combination treatment of liability and compensation insurance has excluded a discussion of the various other insurance proposals, it may be said, as many writers on the subject have already observed, that most of these other proposals really involve either the liability or the compensation principles, particularly the former, and that most of them may be consolidated under the two general headings1 of liability and compensation insurance.