Automobile Registration Suspension

Pennsylvania law clearly and strongly requires that all drivers maintain automobile insurance coverage at all times. The Motor Vehicle Code provides that when a driver fails to maintain insurance coverage on his or her car, the registration of the car must be suspended by the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for three months. A suspension of registration renders the car essentially useless, since it is illegal to drive an unregistered car on public roads and highways.

Furthermore, if PennDOT proves that a vehicle owner operated a vehicle or permitted someone else to operate it when it was uninsured, the owner’s driver’s license must be suspended as well, also for three months. Registration and driving privileges can be re-
stored only after the suspended owner/driver produces proof of insurance and pays applicable restoration fees.

Insurance companies are obliged to report lapsed automobile insurance policies directly to PennDOT. Individuals or companies who pay for automobile insurance on someone else’s car are obliged to notify the car owner if the coverage lapses.

A Pennsylvania trial judge recently granted a couple’s appeal from their vehicle registration suspension. The judge found that the husband and wife did not receive notice from their insurance company promptly after their automobile insurance policy was terminated for nonpayment. Although the insurance company notified PennDOT immediately when it canceled the coverage, the couple proved that more than 30 days elapsed before the insurance company notified them of the cancellation. The day after receiving the cancellation notice, the couple bought coverage from a different insurance company. Because they got new coverage so quickly, the
county trial judge dismissed the registration suspension, but PennDOT appealed the judge’s decision and won.

On appeal, the superior court reinstated the registration suspension because the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code clearly requires that
whenever any driver permits his or her vehicle to be without insurance coverage, a three-month suspension of the vehicle registration is mandatory. The court noted that the couple could have filed an administrative appeal of the cancellation of their insurance to the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, but they had not bothered to file one.

When drivers move, are divorced, experience financial problems, or encounter other personal problems, they sometimes allow their automobile insurance to lapse. Since even a brief lapse in coverage can lead to a suspension of your vehicle registration, you should
make it a priority to carefully maintain your insurance coverage, paying all of your premium bills promptly. If your insurance lapses,
you might be able to avoid the penalties of registration and license suspension if you can prove that you did not drive the vehicle at all during the period of insurance cancellation.

If you feel that there are grounds to challenge the cancellation, you should file an appeal with the Insurance Commissioner. The law requires that automobile insurance cancellation notices include information about how to appeal. Appealing the cancellation will stop the process of license and registration suspension by PennDOT, as the Motor Vehicle Code specifically provides that PennDOT cannot pursue the suspension until the insurance cancellation appeal is over.

If your insurance is canceled, do not drive the uninsured vehicle or permit anyone else to drive it during any period of insurance cancellation or you may lose your driver’s license for three months. Of course, if you can prove that your lapse in insurance coverage was for fewer than 31 days and that you did not drive the car at all during the lapse, your registration and driving privileges should be unaffected.

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