Insurance, taxes dominate first car-sharing regulation talks
Talk of insurance and taxes dominated discussion over the Legislature’s first step toward regulating peer-to-peer car-sharing services Thursday.
The Senate Commerce Committee took testimony on a bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union) that would require companies administering peer-to-peer car sharing to take on insurance liability for vehicles rented using their platform.
Car-sharing firms allow vehicle owners to rent their cars to others when they aren’t using them. These companies — which the bill distinguishes from car rental firms — already operate in New Jersey, though a dearth of regulation means it’s often unclear whose insurance is on the hook following a crash.
“Now, it’s the wild, wild west. You’re suing everybody and there’s carriers denying. Where does the injured party go?” said Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Union).
While the measure would ensure that someone — the car’s owner, its driver, or the car-sharing firm — has insurance, there was disagreement over whether the coverage required under the bill would be enough.
“Since most traditional auto insurance will not cover a car driven using a peer-to-peer service, the peer-to-peer company should always be the primary insurance during the time the car is being shared,” said Jim Lynch, president of the New Jersey Association for Justice, a legal advocacy group.
The bill, as written, would require car-sharing companies to carry only liability, personal injury, and underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage up to the state’s minimum limits. Lawmakers have attempted to raise some of those limits in recent months, including a successful push that will edge bodily injury liability coverage minimums up next year and again in 2026.
Lynch asked that car-sharing firms be required to carry at least $1.5 million in liability coverage, the same coverage required by ride-share services like Lyft and Uber. Kenny Montilla, a lobbyist for car-sharing firm Turo, noted the bill would bar cars rented through a car-sharing service from being used as taxis or other for-hire vehicles.
“To speak to what we like about this bill, it ensures there is no lapse in coverage, so regardless of whatever party tries to sue, there is coverage in place that is provided by the shared vehicle driver, the shared vehicle owner, or the platform in the event that either party is uninsured or underinsured,” Montilla said.
Bramnick stopped short of endorsing the $1.5 million limit but argued car-sharing firms should be required to provide more than minimum liability coverage.
Montilla said car-rental firms are subject to the same limit, adding that car-sharing firms offer protection plans that provide additional coverage.
Rental companies, which compete directly with car-share firms, said their competitors should pay the same fees and taxes levied on car rentals because they offer the same service — even if car-share companies try to claim they don’t.
“I know you’ve probably heard, and maybe you’ll hear in future testimony that the peer-to-peer companies don’t rent cars,” said Dean Thompson, vice president of finance at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. “I encourage you to do a Google and look at their Google ads. You will see ‘rent the perfect car.’ You’ll see ‘instantly rent.’”
New Jersey rentals are charged a $5 daily domestic security fee on top of sales tax levies. Car-sharing firms pay sales tax but not the fee. They’re also exempt from airport access fees and local taxes on car rentals charged in Newark and Elizabeth, Thompson said.
Lawmakers may find extending fees and taxes to car-sharing companies a difficult pill to swallow. Car rentals are typically more expensive than car shares, and adding costs could make the newer service less accessible for low-income residents.
“Recently, I traveled out of state, and I had to rent a car for five days. I used one of the noted companies that are here. The cost for five days was $750, and it wasn’t a super luxury car,” said Sen. Bob Singer (R-Ocean), a bill co-sponsor who added, “Making it affordable to young people, making it affordable to people who are starting out or are struggling — in these financial times, this is so critical.”
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