New DMV chief targets car insurance notification glitch

Not long ago the Department of Motor Vehicles offered a simple piece of advice to motorists who receive notices warning that their car insurance had lapsed, a violation that draws an automatic $250 fine.

"The strongest message is if you get a postcard, don't panic. It doesn't mean you are uninsured," department spokesman Tom Jacobs said.

By now, motorists are probably aware that receiving the postcard doesn't necessarily mean they are uninsured, because most motorists know they have been paying those outrageous premiums all along. But, according to several readers, that minor fact hasn't dissuaded the government from spending months hassling them and threatening to levy fines ranging from $250 to $1,500.

Murray MacDonald has been going round and round with the department for months. Asked the outcome, MacDonald paused, then added, "Well, I haven't been arrested." MacDonald honestly isn't sure what his status is with the government, but he is quite certain he has wasted enough of his retired life dealing with it.

Before we delve into MacDonald's ordeal, allow me to rehash the issue.

Last year, the state kicked off Nevada Liability Insurance Validated Electronically. Under the program, known as Nevada LIVE, insurance companies must electronically submit their list of insured clients. If an agency fails to do this, the DMV can access the insurance company's computers, if they are a large outfit. If it is a small agency, the state has no access.

So, according to Jacobs, a problem arose when some smaller outfits failed to submit their records in a timely fashion. As a result motorists "fell off" the books and the intimidating postcards began spewing out of Carson City like confetti.

If motorists return the postcard with their insurance information and they are indeed covered, Jacobs said, the problem goes away. If they don't or their insurer fails to respond to a subsequent query by the DMV, a certified letter threatening the suspension of registration is mailed.

But judging by the number of calls and letters I've received, the hassling of innocent motorists is widespread and is not only triggered by small agencies that don't submit drivers' records. It is challenging to pinpoint who might be at fault as one side points the finger at the other.

Insurance companies and drivers claim that even when they do as the DMV requests, they are nailed with the certified letter. Representatives of insurance outfits have told me a huge factor is that the state agency will not accept calls from them, even if they are trying to help verify a motorist's information. They accuse the state department of losing records during the transition to Nevada LIVE and say it continues to lose records.

Not true, Jacobs said. His department hasn't lost records and a hot line to Nevada LIVE agents is available and designated solely for the use of insurance companies.

Regardless, it appears the state finally recognizes a problem exists. Readers report their complaints and questions went unanswered by Gov. Jim Gibbons. Last week, not long after a new DMV chief was appointed and a new governor was sworn in, a meeting was held, and officials decided that no more postcards would be sent out until the issue is resolved.

"This is definitely a priority with us," Jacobs said. "We met Wednesday to examine what we can specifically do to make sure this is working more effectively. This is one of those things the director wants to make sure this (the verification process) is working the way it is supposed to be working."

In MacDonald's case, whatever was supposed to be working clearly wasn't.

MacDonald received a postcard in October asking for the verification of his insurance. He returned the postcard and a certified letter including documents proving his coverage. He heard nothing back. In November, he received another postcard saying that the DMV planned to suspend his registration in January because his insurance company hadn't responded to its query.

MacDonald dialed the underwriter on the East Coast.

"I told her I lived in Nevada and she said, 'Oh boy,' " MacDonald said, adding that the problems in this state were known nationwide.

MacDonald was told the insurance company could not do anything to verify the information with the DMV because it had to be "queried" by the government first. The insurers said the DMV wouldn't accept calls from them either, he said.

MacDonald visited a DMV office where one technician told him he wasn't on a list of uninsured motorists and another told him he needed to verify his insurance information with the agency.

"They're supposed to query my insurance company to make sure I'm insured," MacDonald said. "That's not happening. They're not getting queried and they won't talk to me."

In early December, MacDonald sent a second certified letter to the DMV and he hasn't heard a thing back.

"It's so frustrating," MacDonald said. "They say Murray MacDonald, you have to straighten this out or else. ... Then you go to your insurance company and they say they can't do anything until the DMV queries them."

MacDonald is right. Why are motorists who dutifully pay their monthly premiums the ones who have to sort this out? If the insurance agency screwed up by failing to submit the information, let it deal with it. If the DMV's crappy computer system is to blame, let the government figure it out.

Fortunately it sounds like that is exactly what it is attempting to do.

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.