Dear NC DMV: #dobetter

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 18, 2010 in Fail | Subscribe

Having all-but-decided to go down the criminal prosecution path after I graduate from NCCU Law, you can imagine my surprise when I found out last week that I’ve apparently been a criminal myself for the past 4-5 months :eek:

First, three items of background:

(1) Back in undergrad at N.C. State I had a PO Box that I used for all of my mail, so nothing got lost while I changed residence halls over the last four years. Then in August when I moved to Durham I got a new license with my new address, and submitted a forwarding order to the postal service to forward my mail. The USPS has done so without incident since I moved.

(2) I have no criminal record at all, and my driving record is almost spotless. My last motor vehicle infraction was five years ago, when (during a 3am McDonald’s run while studying for a Calculus III exam) I ran a stop sign at a 3-way intersection that had been installed only moments before.1

(3) Back in February I had a 4-day lapse in my auto insurance coverage. The catalyst was innocuous enough — amid mailing off about a dozen things, I forgot to put a stamp on the envelope to the Farm Bureau :beatup:  The letter got returned to me, I realized what happened, then called the insurance office and had them do a payment via phone. With the premium paid my insurance was back in effect, but still had a lapse spanning that weekend through the morning following my phone call.

Like most states North Carolina requires drivers to maintain liability insurance in order to operate a motor vehicle. If insurance coverage lapses at any time, the insurance company is obligated to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles. I’ve since learned that the DMV then (purportedly) notifies the driver that a lapse was reported and the driver is required to pay a fine or have their registration revoked.

That notification is where things start to tick me off… because I got none :mad:

I had no clue there was even an issue with my vehicle registration until I went online to renew my tags before my mini-vacation to Virginia Beach. After clicking the submit button to renew, I got an error notice that renewal wasn’t possible. But the error had no mention of revoked plates: instead it said I couldn’t renew until my car was re-inspected, part of a law change last year where car inspections now take place the same month as registration renewals.

So I went and got the car inspected the day before I left, enjoyed myself on the break, and came back on Monday. I waited the week to make sure the mechanic had plenty of time to update whatever database the state uses to monitor inspections. Then the following Sunday — a week ago today — I went online to again try and renew my registration.

This time I got a second error notifying me that renewal was not possible, but this time the error noted it was not possible because my plates had been revoked… the very first indication I got that I’d basically been illegally driving around for 4 months on a revoked registration :crack:

It particularly frosted my Wheaties because I had just done a boatload of legal research on driving privileges for one of my final exam questions in my Race and the Law class a couple weeks ago. Although driving is a privilege and not a fundamental right, once something like a vehicle registration is conferred it creates a property interest that can’t be taken away without due process.  The due process standard is fairly low nationwide but always includes some level of notice prior to the revocation. And here I was being “notified” by an error generated by an automated registration renewal system, with no opportunity to contest the revocation before it happened. :roll:

The particular section of the law I had allegedly violated, N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-311, reads as follows:

(a) Action. – When the Division receives evidence, by a notice of termination of a motor vehicle liability policy or otherwise, that the owner of a motor vehicle registered or required to be registered in this State does not have financial responsibility for the operation of the vehicle, the Division shall send the owner a letter. The letter shall notify the owner of the evidence and inform the owner that the owner shall respond to the letter within 10 days of the date on the letter and explain how the owner has met the duty to have continuous financial responsibility for the vehicle. Based on the owner’s response, the Division shall take the appropriate action listed:
     (1) Division correction. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes that the owner has not had a lapse in financial responsibility, the Division shall correct its records.
     (2) Penalty only. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes all of the following, the Division shall assess the owner a penalty in the amount set in subsection (b) of this section:
          a. The owner had a lapse in financial responsibility, but the owner now has financial responsibility.
          b. The vehicle was not involved in an accident during the lapse in financial responsibility.
          c. The owner did not operate the vehicle during the lapse with knowledge that the owner had no financial responsibility for the vehicle.
     (3) Penalty and revocation. – If the owner responds within the required time and the response establishes any of the following, the Division shall assess the owner a penalty in the amount set in subsection (b) of this section and revoke the registration of the owner’s vehicle for the period set in subsection (c) of this section:
          a. The owner had a lapse in financial responsibility and still does not have financial responsibility.
          b. The owner now has financial responsibility even though the owner had a lapse, but the vehicle was involved in an accident during the lapse, the owner operated the vehicle during the lapse with knowledge that the owner had no financial responsibility for the vehicle, or both.
     (4) Revocation pending response. – If the owner does not respond within the required time, the Division shall revoke the registration of the owner’s vehicle for the period set in subsection (c) of this section. When the owner responds, the Division shall take the appropriate action listed in subdivisions (1) through (3) of this subsection as if the response had been timely.
(b) Penalty Amount.  [… table outlining penalty amounts …]
(c) Revocation Period. – The revocation period for a revocation based on a response that establishes that a vehicle owner does not have financial responsibility is indefinite and ends when the owner obtains financial responsibility or transfers the vehicle to an owner who has financial responsibility. The revocation period for a revocation based on a response that establishes the occurrence of an accident during a lapse in financial responsibility or the knowing operation of a vehicle without financial responsibility is 30 days. The revocation period for a revocation based on failure of a vehicle owner to respond is indefinite and ends when the owner responds.

Various emphases added by me.

With the statutory language in front of me, I called the DMV on Monday as soon as the office opened. The lady I spoke to told me the DMV had sent me notice. Five notices, in fact: she claimed the DMV mailed four separate letters, and a postcard to boot.

When I told her I hadn’t received any of them, she asked for my address which I provided. She then told me the DMV had been sending notices to my old PO Box in Raleigh, and that the confusion was my fault for not updating my mailing address.

The situation and her attitude made me want to reach through the phone and strangle someone. I figured my mailing address would have been updated when I got my new license back in August. But, even assuming the DMV didn’t use my new residence as my new mailing address and it was my fault for not updating them accordingly, that means the USPS would have had to not forward five separate mailings spanning over a month… even though they’ve successfully forwarded all of my other correspondence without a problem.

Even if I thought the USPS was the single most incompetent government enterprise to exist (I don’t), the idea that they selectively didn’t forward material from one particular correspondent on five separate occasions is just preposterous in its implausibility. The far more likely scenario, to my enfeebled mind at least, is that the NC DMV never actually sent the notices or has “Do Not Forward” printed across the front of the envelopes.

Anyhow, trying to contain my total disbelief and figure out how to get my registration renewed, I’m told by the bureaucrat that I’d have to contact my insurance company, have them send a Form FS-1 to the DMV notifying them I had active insurance (bear in mind I’ve been regularly paying my premiums since the 4-day lapse 5 months ago), then call back 2-3 days later to request a hearing on the revocation. I mention the statutory language to her, and she repeats that I need to have the Form FS-1 sent in and call back to demand an administrative hearing.

I contact my insurance agent and the Form FS-1 is faxed to the DMV less than an hour later. I call the DMV back the next morning en route to my Medicaid mediation, talk to a different bureaucrat who verifies the FS-1 has been received, and again mention the plain language of the N.C. General Statutes that my revocation should end and I be allowed to pay my civil penalty and move on with my life. The second bureaucrat asks if I’d like to demand a hearing (I do) and then tells me I’ll receive a notice in 2-3 weeks scheduling a hearing date 2-3 weeks after that. She then tells me that if I need to operate the motor vehicle I should go buy a temporary 30-day tag.

"Dear TDot: You were right. Oops. Sincerely, NCDMV"

Terrified something could happen and I get pulled over in an unlicensed vehicle, I go to the DMV in between the two Medicaid hearings and drop $63 on a 30-day tag as instructed. I then spend the rest of the week waiting for a letter telling me when my hearing will take place.

I got the letter on Saturday, which I took the liberty of scanning in for y’all to read if you’re interested.

Essentially the DMV agrees that the statutory language I pointed out to them was right, and in fact I don’t need a hearing at all. I just have to pay the civil penalty and move on with my life… the exact same thing I was trying to do on the phone with the apparently-less-than-competent DMV personnel. :mad:

Now I have no objection at all to being required to pay a civil penalty for the insurance lapse. We live in a society where people get penalized for their carelessness to teach them a lesson; I was careless in not putting a stamp on the envelope, I’m fine being penalized for it, and it won’t happen again.

But I’ve got serious reservations with:

  • Not getting an indication about the plate revocation the first time I attempted to renew my plates online, instead only being notified that I needed to get my car inspected. Solely because of the DMV’s negligently-coded website I drove in a vehicle with revoked plates across two separate states spanning five separate days; had I known the plates were revoked, 雅雅 and I could have just taken her car. It’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t get pulled over or in a car accident that would have had far broader repercussions.
  • My registration being revoked in the first place without any kind of notice at all whatsoever from the DMV. The notion that the USPS selectively failed to forward 4 separate letters and a postcard spanning several weeks — when they’ve forwarded all of my other bills and other correspondence without an issue — is simply too implausible to be believed.
  • The DMV arguing the lack of notice is my own fault for not updating them with my new mailing address… when they got my new mailing address on my new license I obtained in August. If a driver with a mostly-unblemished record hasn’t responded to numerous notices purportedly sent to a (older) mailing address, doesn’t it make sense to send at least one of the notices to the person’s (newer) address on their license?
  • Being told by two separate bureaucrats that I’d need to demand a hearing to review the revocation, despite the plain language of the statute I provided to them indicating no such hearing was needed.
  • Being given a series of hoops to jump through before I could even demand the hearing I didn’t need.
  • Having to spend $60+ on a 30-day temporary tag that I only had to buy because the NC DMV apparently doesn’t know the laws it operates under. Had I gotten a notification in the mail before the revocation, or a notice on the website when I attempted to renew my registration on July 1, or an acknowledgement that the revocation was temporary when I talked to a live bureaucrat on July 12, or even gotten the letter they sent on or before July 15, I would have had enough time to renew my registration without the wasted money and time spent buying the temporary tag.

Unfortunately the N.C. General Assembly has already adjourned for the year, because otherwise I’d be in downtown Raleigh raising hell that this level of pervasive, multi-faceted incompetence is allowed to take place in a government agency. This isn’t like a private marketplace where I can switch vendors if the one I’m using turns out to be incompetent — I have no choice but to register my vehicle with the NC DMV if I want to live and drive in North Carolina. So I expect better of a monopolistic enterprise funded by my tax dollars.

With service like this, it’s no wonder so many North Carolinians end up in court

Do better, N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. Do better.

  1. The infraction was sufficiently comedic that the judge laughed when I appeared in court for the offense a few weeks later :beatup: []

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8 Comments

Va.
Jul 25, 2010 at 10:50 PM

Ugh, this DMV thing reminds me of a similar education scenario. Sort of like how every damn school system in the state charged for remedial summer school, and apparently nobody knew that was clearly against the law. Kids were repeating all of 10th grade because they flunked English, and their moms couldn’t front the $300 (in cash, of course) “required” for their kids to start remedial summer school.


 
TDot
Jul 26, 2010 at 12:40 AM

Was that here in North Carolina?? That’s crazy…


 
brittany
Jul 27, 2010 at 9:14 PM

Just came across your post! Last october while I was still in college, I started taking over payments for my car. My mom set up my insurance so that it would be automatically drafted out of my account every 2 or 3 months with liberty mutual. I had no idea that my insurance had lapsed until I got the the revocation letter when I moved back home. No one from liberty had called me, my mail of course was being sent to my moms house. I got my lawyer to set the appeal for the hearing after I submitted my FS-1 with my renewal of insurance with a DIFFERENT company. The woman whom I had spoken with told me she would review everything and call me back with a date. Never heard from her, and could never contact her. So, with that said my inspection came due. I obviously could not get my tags. I also had to turn in my plate for 30 days and might I had this is after I’ve been offered a post grad job, in a different city to which I commute everyday. Now I have no car. Do they hand out a 30 day tag?


 
TDot
Jul 28, 2010 at 12:03 AM

I had to give them a reason in my case (which at the time I got it was that my hearing was pending). I’m not sure if you’ll be able to get one with your plates turned in or not — can’t hurt to try though :)


 
nancy
Aug 24, 2010 at 7:09 PM

I am going through that right now, same thing, insurance lapse for 11 days, 6 months ago, I never received a notice. I have one week to have the car reregistered. They are claiming I have to turn in the tags and pay the fine, I called dmv and she claims I have to ‘wait’ until they schedule a hearing. I will definately lose my job if I can’t make it to work. TDot did you go in before they sent you the info on a hearing and get temp plates or did you have the hearing scheduled? Thanks in advance.


 
TDot
Aug 24, 2010 at 9:30 PM

I went in and got a temp tag before they sent me the hearing info, I was worried about getting pulled over with “revoked” tags on my car — criminal citations like that (even traffic-related) become a hassle for aspiring attorneys trying to get licensed :beatup:


 
dail
Oct 8, 2010 at 9:15 AM

I’m going through the same thing at the moment and have been in correspondence with the ncdot. My responses have been you cannot move the car for thirty days blah blah blah. I have shown the full law in regards to the situation and been told the same thing over and over. what course of action should be next?


 
TDot
Oct 8, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Unfortunately I can’t really answer that question — any advice on what you should do would be considered the Unauthorized Practice of Law by the State Bar since I’m a law student :(

The North Carolina Bar Association has a Lawyer Referral Service you could contact (http://www.ncbar.org/public-pro-bono/lawyer-referral-service.aspx) or try talking with someone in-person at a DMV branch office

And I say that with the caveat that I don’t know your situation, I’m not an attorney, this isn’t legal advice, blah blah blah etc etc etc :)


 

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