More than 40,000 Mainers have seen their motor vehicle registrations suspended since January after their insurance companies tipped the state that their coverage expired.

“Historically, about 65 percent of suspensions are restored,” said Deputy Secretary of State Doug Dunbar, “so there are probably about 14,300 actual suspensions currently in effect.”

Dunbar said that in all, 40,838 registrations have been suspended by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles as a result of a law that went into effect in January. That law mandates that any auto insurance company doing business in Maine has to notify the BMV whenever a customer’s auto, truck or trailer insurance lapses.

Before January had turned to February more than 5,000 notices to vehicle owners were sent by the bureau telling them they had 30 days to provide the state with proof of insurance.

Dunbar said another law passed this year – to take effect in September – creates a 15-day waiting period between the time the state is notified of a lapsed policy and the time it sends out its 30-day notice of suspension.

That’s to give the BMV time to match newly issued registrations with older ones to avoid notices to people who might have simply traded a vehicle and changed insurers.

He said insurance companies are also being encouraged to let the state know when they issue new policies, again to cut down on the number of notices being sent to vehicle owners.

When the Legislature passed the first law, it included funding to hire four additional full-time BMV employees to handle the added workload resulting from the suspension notices. Dunbar estimated that cost taxpayers between $150,000 and $200,000 for salaries and benefits. There’s an additional cost for printing of the notices and mailing them, but he said he didn’t have a firm figure for that.

Former Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky said in December that the law “is intended to protect the public from motorists who violate Maine law by operating a vehicle without appropriate insurance coverage.”

Maine requires motorists to carry a minimum of $50,000 in liability insurance covering personal injury or death for an accident involving one person, and $100,000 for an accident with two or more injuries or deaths.

Drivers in the state are also required to carry $25,000 or more in property damage insurance and at least $1,000 in medical payments insurance.

The law is aimed at getting uninsured drivers off the state’s roads.

Still, some motorists have been angered by the law, particularly those who simply changed insurance companies to get cheaper rates or better service only to be reported as lapsed customers by their prior insurer.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the number of complaints concerning the notices has dropped off as people have become aware of the measure. He said the state also is making it as easy as possible for people to show they have proof of insurance, including a return envelope mailed with each notice for a copy of the proof certificate.

Vehicle owners who receive a notice from the state that their registration will be suspended unless they have evidence of proof of insurance can avoid suspension by showing that proof to BMV officials at a local registry office, or by sending it to the bureau headquarters in Augusta by mail, by fax or via the Internet.

Staff writer Donna Perry contributed to this report.


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