Maine Motorists Angered by Uninsured Rule

January 24, 2005

Some Maine motorists are angered over a new law under which motor vehicle registrations can be suspended if an insurance company notifies the state of a motorist canceling or failing to pay insurance.

So far, more than 5,000 Mainers have received letters since the law took effect Jan. 1 with the goal of keeping uninsured motorists off roads. At the current pace, the state could mail out 100,000 letters this year.

The problem is that motorists who switch insurance companies are lumped together with those whose insurance coverage is dropped or terminated. Also getting letters are people who cancel insurance for recreational vehicles through the winter.

“I have heard from more than one constituent, and expect I will hear from more,” said Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, who was on the committee that forwarded the bill to the full Legislature. “I know other legislators are hearing from their constituents.”

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, whose office oversees the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, stressed that the law is aimed at Mainers who deliberately try to avoid the state law that requires them to insure their vehicles.

Though the percentage of uninsured drivers in Maine is among the lowest in the country, it is still estimated between 4 and 8 percent, he said.

Dunlap said lawmakers were convinced they needed to do something about the estimated 5,000 accidents a year that involve uninsured motorists. On average, there are 14 accidents every day involving an uninsured motorist, he said.

“That is a lot of accidents affecting a lot of people,” Dunlap said.

But Dunlap acknowledges that the new law and its implementation has had its problems.

The biggest concern — he has fielded some of the complaints personally — involve people who switch from one insurance company to another and their previous insurer notified the state they no longer had coverage.

“Yes, there has been some consternation,” Dunlap said. “We are trying to get the word out that people can go online to tell us they have a new insurance company; they don’t have to come in to a motor vehicle office.”

Damon was on the Transportation Committee last year when the bill was adopted. He is co-chairman of the panel this year and expects there will be proposals to change the legislation to make it work more smoothly.

Dunlap, who took office Jan. 7, said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles expected there would be some problems implementing the new law, but he believes it is needed and that implementation of any major new law is difficult.

“We need to make this work, and we will,” he said. “We are working on making the letter that goes out more user-friendly for the reader.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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