The Department of Motor Vehicles is an agency everybody loves to hate.
The chairs are hard, the lines are long, the office is depressing and undoubtedly you will be seated next to a screaming child. Your day is essentially shot and the grand finale is having what is likely to be the ugliest picture ever taken -- the camera zoomed in so tight the technician can read your mind, which is saying: "Get me out of here already."
So when an insurance agent tells us any mishap with our policy is the fault of the DMV folks, we gladly accept it as fact because they love to make up reasons to squeeze more money out of us.
In recent weeks, motorists have been enraged by an untold number of notices the agency mailed asking for vehicle insurance verification. Piles of postcards were sent out after February when, DMV officials say, a handful of insurance companies failed to upload their records in a timely fashion. That caused drivers to "fall off" the agency's books and appear to be uninsured.
"The strongest message is if you get a postcard, don't panic," said spokesman Tom Jacobs. "It doesn't mean you are uninsured."
It's hard not to panic: It's you against a state agency, and if you lose you have to cough up $250. In all fairness, motorists who prove their insurance never lapsed should have their registration fee waived for the unnecessary heart palpitations.
When the department started its Nevada Liability Insurance Validated Electronically (LIVE) program earlier this year, insurance companies were required to submit their client information every 15 days. The DMV is capable of accessing insurance records of larger companies, but the problem this time around was apparently caused by smaller agencies.
The information is run through the DMV's computer to verify certain data. If an adjuster writes down the wrong vehicle identification number, the motorists will receive the dreaded postcard.
If the adjuster scribbles down "Joe" rather than "Joseph" -- the DMV uses full legal names -- Joe will get a postcard.
Electronic verification systems aren't perfect and that is scary. Imagine if the federal government adopts the proposed "electronic employment eligibility verification" system to determine whether someone applying for a job is a legal resident. A potential employer might think Joe is unlawfully in this country because some computer has his name as Joseph when it really is just Joe.
Apparently these verification programs are that sensitive.
A reader wrote in saying that she received the postcard because her vehicle was registered to a family trust. That too is a problem, Jacobs said, because you can't insure a trust; it has to be a person.
Jacobs' explanation of the snags at the DMV won't satisfy all of us. You wonder how many drivers receive the notice, freak out and ship off a $250 check to the agency to have their registration reinstated?
Bob Grover, who owned an Allstate Insurance agency in Las Vegas, said he noticed an increase in the number of these warning postcards about the time politicians realized the state's budget was doomed.
"There was the terrible shortfall the state was looking at and we all of the sudden got of a flood of these things," Grover said. "By the time I left in 2008, instead of receiving 100 of these things a year we had 300. The thing that was most striking was that in 90 percent of the cases, there was insurance coverage on the car."
Grover also admits adjusters make mistakes, motorists fail to pay their premium and companies sometimes lag in submitting records.
"The DMV won't admit any errors and neither will Allstate. It might have been a combination of errors, but it looked deliberate to me. All the sudden we learn about a shortfall in state revenue and coincidentally this started to happen at the same time."
Jacobs said motorists simply need to prove their insurance never lapsed by submitting the pertinent information to the department or contacting their insurance agent. Whatever the avenue, it's critical that motorists respond.
"People may look at the card and say, 'I'm insured,' and throw it away," Jacobs said. "If you have not had a lapse in insurance, you are going to be OK."
Drivers who don't respond will receive a registered letter reiterating the need to verify insurance information. If that too is ignored, the DMV will suspend your registration and the vehicle owner will have to pay $250 to have it reinstated.
Once you reach that point, there are no backsies.
You will end up in the long lines with screaming children, but the ugly picture will be the least of your worries.
If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.