Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Trust us, we're the DMV

Word is that the State of Georgia revoked the registrations last week of about 77,000 vehicles "believed" to be uninsured. Note my use of quotation marks about "believed".

I'm all for getting uninsured motorists off the road. Down in the 'hood, I bet more than half of the Impalas and Delta 88s flying down Moreland Ave. have no insurance, and lord knows I don't want them to hit me.

But there's a potentially huge problem with what the state is doing. See, here in Georgia we have a fairly new law that says the state only recognizes you as having insurance if the DMV computers say you have insurance. You no longer have to carry insurance cards - mostly because they are legally meaningless now.

And your insurance company is responsible for telling the DMV computers that you have insurance. Gee, no chance for a problem there, huh?

I ran in to this issue firsthand in March when I went to renew the tags for my Maxima and the wife's Santa Fe. As the clerk was processing my renewal, she stopped suddenly and told me there's no insurance coverage showing on the Santa Fe, so she cannot renew my registration.

Apparently, this happens often enough that the DMV keeps stacks of instruction sheets at the ready to give to folks in my situation. She handed me a sheet and mentioned that my insurance company would have to fax in a declarations page in order for me to register. I showed her my insurance card to no avail.

She told me that what happens a lot of the time is that the insurance company will mistype the VIN number (gee, it's only about 50 alphanumeric characters and insurance companies must only have to do it about 10,000 times a day - how could that happen?) when entering coverage information.

Thankfully, my insurance company - Progressive (highly recommended) - was on the stick enough to get a declaration faxed over (at 8:30 in the morning) within about 5 minutes.

After my renewal, I had to follow-up with Progressive to get them to re-input the Santa Fe VIN into the DMV computer, because despite having a declaration page in front of her, the renewal clerk could not actually update my insurance status. The fax only allowed me to get my registration renewed.

Today, I called Progressive to make sure the insurance information had been updated. They assured me it was (I'm going to double-check on the DMV site, however).

I guess I should be glad my birthday's not in July. If I hadn't registered in March, the state would still believe the Santa Fe is uninsured. The DMV says notices go out to people whose cars show up as uninsured (just getting a notice costs you $25), but considering I also had to change my address when I registered, I doubt we'd have even gotten a notice.

If you're "believed" to be uninsured and you're stopped by a cop, you're subject to additional fines and your vehicle can be impounded.

So it's quite possible that a person - such as myself - who is fully insured can have his or her tag revoked, car impounded and potentially go to jail for somebody else's clerical or technical error.

Of course, the wife's the one who drives the Santa Fe most of the time ...

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