IF YOU HAVE INSURANCE, SHOW PROOF.

Every driver who is stopped by a police officer for a moving motor vehicle violation is required to show proof of liability insurance.  Maine law states that if a driver does not show proof of liability insurance that failure constitutes prima facie proof that the person is not insured.   A person who fails to produce proof of insurance will receive a traffic ticket (Uniform Summons and Complaint) for the infraction of failure to provide proof of insurance.   Because the charge is an infraction, and not a criminal offense, an adjudication will automatically be entered by default and a fine will be assessed if the person fails to deny the charge within 20 days of the violation date.  Failure to pay the fine will result in a license suspension.  To become reinstated from such a suspension, a person must not only pay the fine to the Violations Bureau but also pay a $50.00 reinstatement fee to the BMV.  To be effective, a denial of a charge of failure to show proof of insurance must be filed with the District Court Violations Bureau, in Lewiston, at the address shown on the back of the ticket, within the 20 days allowed for filing an answer.

Anyone who in fact has an insurance policy in effect on the alleged violation date can easily secure dismissal of the charge.  All the person has to do is send the ticket to the District Court Violations Bureau, enter a denial on the back and accompany the ticket with a copy of an insurance card or policy declaration showing that the vehicle was insured.   If those steps are taken in time for the materials to reach the Violations Bureau within 20 days of the alleged offense date, Maine law specifically provides that the clerk of the Violations Bureau must dismiss the charge.  If a person enters a denial within the 20-day time frame but fails to include proof of insurance with the ticket and denial, the case will be set for trial in the appropriate District Court.   If the person shows up on the District Court trial date with proof that insurance was in effect on the alleged violation date, Maine statutes provide that the court must dismiss the charge.    Between the two options, it is much simpler and more efficient to include proof of insurance with the ticket and denial, and to send those materials to the Violations Bureau within 20 days of receiving the summons.

Because the charge of failure to produce evidence of insurance is “only” a traffic infraction, people sometimes don’t take it as seriously as they should.   People sometimes forget to file a timely answer denying the charge.   When the Violations Bureau subsequently sends a notice that the waiver fine is due, these people just send in the fine to avoid any further hassle such as the license suspension that will result if they do not pay the fine on time.  I have also known people to wrongly believe that, in order to show proof and get the charge dismissed, they would have to enter a denial, get a court date, attend the court session and then show proof of insurance at court.  Because this seems like a lot of trouble to avoid a small fine, they choose instead to just admit the charge and pay the waiver fine.  Other people have been known to deny the charge, receive a trial date and then fail to appear in court on that date.  This results in entry of a judgment by default and assessment of a fine.   All of these courses of action are a big mistake for anyone who was actually insured on the alleged violation date.

The trouble is that, although failure to provide proof of insurance is only a civil infraction, an adjudication of the offense has very serious consequences.   It will result in the Secretary of State, BMV, imposing an obligation to file an SR-22 to demonstrate ongoing insurance coverage.   Anyone who fails to file an SR-22 as required will have his or her license and vehicle registrations suspended until an SR-22 is filed.   This creates a potential for trouble if, as sometimes occurs, the person’s insurance company neglects to periodically transmit the SR-22 to the Secretary of State.   It doesn’t matter if the person has an insurance policy in effect, because the condition for keeping a valid license and right to register motor vehicles is not to have an insurance policy in effect but to have an SR-22 on file with the Secretary of State.   Sometimes, people think they can ignore a notice from the Secretary of State warning them that their license and registration will be suspended if they fail to file proof of insurance.   They think that having valid insurance is enough to inoculate them, but it isn’t– once the obligation is imposed, they need to file an SR-22.  Of course, if a person’s license is suspended for failing to file an SR-22, the person is not allowed to just go on driving, and anyone who does drive while suspended commits the crime of operating after suspension, which carries a 60-day suspension upon conviction.   It’s also a crime for which the driver can be arrested and hauled away in handcuffs while the vehicle is towed from the scene.

The reason I know about the trouble people get into for failing to secure dismissal of a charge of failing to produce proof of insurance is that I have seen it happen way too many times.   By the time a person is charged with OAS, based on a suspension for failing to file an SR-22, which resulted from an adjudication of failing to show proof of insurance, in a case in which the person was at all times insured, that person has created an entirely avoidable mess that takes considerable effort to unravel.   If you are ever cited for failing to provide proof of insurance when you are in fact insured, mark a denial on the back of the ticket and send it to the Violations Bureau, along with proof of insurance, in time for those items to arrive at the Violations Bureau within 20 days of the date the ticket was written.  Then, follow up with a phone call to the Violations Bureau to make sure the materials were received and the charge was dismissed.  Whatever you do, do not admit to the charge if you were insured, and do not allow yourself to be defaulted on this charge.   That’s no way to avoid a hassle.  It’s a sure way to get yourself into one of the biggest hassles you’ll ever care to have.



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