Troubles with the DMV after lapse of ins coverage. Advice sought.
February 20, 2013 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, longtime reader here, new poster. While dealing with multiple personal hardships (more inside), I had a lapse in insurance coverage for 10 days. This has snowballed into a major issue for me, and I may lose my driving privileges for 3 months, which means losing my job. Any and all advice/anecdata appreciated.

Hi all, longtime reader here, new poster. Please bear with me regarding some of the backstory; I'll keep it as brief as possible. I'm located in PA.

So, I've been dealing with severe mental health issues off and on since the middle of last year. It's impacted my ability to take care of anything but the basics, essentially. I lost my primary job at the end of August, my unemployment claim was denied, and at the time I made too much for Legal Aid and couldn't afford a lawyer to help me appeal the decision. I've been struggling to get by since this happened.

I had missed (iirc) my insurance payment which was due on 11/28, and by 12/26, my insurance was canceled. I couldn't afford to get my insurance reinstated until 1/4. By this point, I was also three months behind on my car payment, and on 1/1 my car was repoed. It was only thanks to my dad's generosity that I was able to get the car back, on 1/8. The whole ordeal was unbearably stressful and more than I could afford, as I had to rent a car to get to work until I could get my own car back. (I work ~35-40 minutes away from where I live. It's in a rural area, so the bus/walk combo would take about 2-2.5 hours one-way, and I don't even know if the buses at that end still run when I get off of work, which can be anywhere from 10 PM to 1 AM.)

I received a letter from PennDot on 1/7 requesting a notarized affadavit stating that the vehicle hadn't been operated during those 10 days, but I was unaware that the insurance had expired (I thought I had a few days wiggle room, and had been waiting for my paycheck on 1/4), so I did drive to work on the 28th, 29th, and 1st. I freaked out about having to deal with this affadavit, let it go for too long while dealing with ongoing family and personal issues, and eventually had another downward spiral that resulted in an emergency room visit on 2/8. Since then, I've been tentatively diagnosed with a bipolar-spectrum disorder, and am waiting on a full psych eval + getting into a correct therapeutic/medication regimen. The psych appt isn't until the end of next month, and depending on the outcome of the evaluation, I may end up filing for SSDI. I don't know what is going to happen at this point. I can barely manage working P/T right now, and have been receiving some financial assistance from my dad, in addition to his help with the car, just to keep afloat. He can't afford to do this indefinitely, so I was hoping that after my appointment next month, I'd be on a meds combo that would allow me to take on another P/T job or just go back to F/T work.

So, on 2/15, I received another letter from PennDOT stating that my registration is being suspended for three months, effective 3/27. I have to mail all of my registration materials in and pay a $50 fee.

The letter states that I have the right to appeal this decision in the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the mailing date of the letter (today, 2/20), and have to send a time-stamped, certified copy of the appeal to the DMV.

I'm feeling unbearably stupid and defeated at this point. I rely on my car for work, and I also provide 90% of the transportation needs for a disabled, non-driving family member.

If I provide documentation of everything that's been going on, is there any hope that I might be able to avoid this based on a "hardship" scenario, pay a fine, or otherwise avoid losing my car for three months? If I lose my car, I'll lose my job, because the job duties are location-dependent. I don't know if I would get unemployment or not in this case. I have no options for ride-sharing, have no one to borrow a car from, etc. I'll still have a valid license, so I can drive provided I can find an alternate vehicle.

My options, as I see them, if the appeal process fails:
a.) I live near a major city in PA, and have access (I think) to both FlexCar and ZipCar. I don't know enough about them yet to determine if I can get by with that type of service, so I need to investigate their policies regarding standing reservations.
b.) I have a mountain bike and could theoretically suck it up and bus/bike commute *to* work, but getting home from work could be difficult.
c.) Start searching now for any semi-decent job within bus/bike distance, but that would mean giving up a good P/T job (in IT) where I have some tenure, make $13+/hour, and am given a large degree of autonomy in my daily tasks. My relative lack of coworkers is really the only thing that helps me continue to show up to work.
d.) Give up on car ownership right now, let my car be voluntary-repossessed, and try to find an apartment in the city when I'm able to do so.

Re: d.) - To add a fly to this ointment, I just found out that my roommate is likely moving in with his girlfriend as of next month, which would mean that as of 4/1, I'll be saddled with the full $645/month rent for our two-bedroom apartment. I have the option of converting to a month-to-month lease for an additional $50/month, but if I were to move out and try to find a cheaper apartment in the city proper, I'd have to give a minimum of 60 days notice. So that doesn't help me, either. I'd hope that I could find a new roommate before the 1st, but I can't count on that. I may have the option of finding someone to assume/take over the lease, and if my landlord will allow that, I'd be able to move sooner.

I'm at an impasse. I know I've screwed up, and I'm going to focus on getting my mental health and stability back. In the meantime, I have a mess to clean up and not sure where to begin.

Any and all advice is sincerely appreciated.
posted by cardinality to Travel & Transportation around Pennsylvania (7 answers total)
I'm sure I won't be the only person suggesting at least a consult with an attorney. In many states, and I think in Pennsylvania as well, you can, with a suspended license get a restricted license allowing you to go to work and medical appointments. Do please ask a lawyer, and don't lose hope. Something can likely be done here.
posted by tyllwin at 7:32 PM on February 20, 2013

This suggests that you might be able to sell the car to a friend and have them register it. Somewhat dodgy and you should absolutely find out what's legal in Pennsylvania before trying it, but it's worth looking into.
posted by bac at 7:49 PM on February 20, 2013

I cannot speak for PA, but in NY, if you get a suspension for not having insurance on a registered car (I had one that was not running so never left my driveway so why insure it?) you can get the right to drive to and from work and take your children to school. I would talk to an attorney first if I could, but if not, talk to the DMV about being able to drive to and from work. This assumes you have cleared up all your past finesbillscharges. I think if you discuss your medical issues make sure they don't take your license for them, but explain that you were unable to fill out the affidavit but have not gotten your shit together and would like to square things away enough to be able to drive to and from work at least. I think they will work with you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:08 PM on February 20, 2013

You can probably apply for a hardship license (to-from work and grocery store) or hardship waiver to the suspension. Especially in light of all the rest of the stuff that's been going on (and for which you have documentation).
posted by notsnot at 8:11 PM on February 20, 2013

Best answer: It might be ridiculous to suggest that you count your blessings right now, but this PENNDOT page suggests your driver's license should've been suspended along with the car's registration. If your driver's license gets suspended along with the car's registration, it seems the sort of limited license a few posters have suggested will not be available to you in this circumstance, as suspensions due to failure to maintain financial responsibility are specifically excluded.

This rather thorough document describing the process seems to suggest that there's not much hope of a successful appeal:
At your hearing, you will have the opportunity to present testimony and evidence that the Court feels is relevant. The only issues before the Court are whether PennDOT properly sent to you notice of the suspension and whether or not the suspension was properly imposed. The law does not permit the Court to consider defenses or explanations such as your lack of understanding of the law, hardship, economic difficulties or reasons for lapse of insurance.
Sorry that's not a rosy picture, but at least it might help you decide which options to focus your efforts on. Some of what you have been doing -- whether that's living where you currently live, or working where you work -- may very well be unsustainable. Having change forced on you sucks, but there's nothing here that's going to kill you. You're not going to starve, and it doesn't sound like you'll be homeless anytime soon. Your dad is helping out, which is great -- maybe ask his advice? It will get better. Try not to panic in the meantime.
posted by jon1270 at 8:37 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Before falling to pieces make an appointment and GO to PennDOT/DMV and talk to a human. You will be surprised at how nice and helpful humans can be. (Especially in PA).

Don't freak out. Talk to someone.

The approach I usually take is, "I've really made a mess of things here and I'm hoping you can help me clean this up." Then go from there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:08 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all, just wanted to come back and update the thread. I marked the best answers that were most helpful to me, so thanks to jon1270 and Ruthless Bunny.

I ended up deciding to just suck it up, do the right thing, send in my plate and just deal with the three months of hoofing it and using public transportation. (Free exercise, right?!) I didn't want to run the risk of lying on the affadavit and having it come back to bite me in the ass later. Due to the health issues, I missed the deadline to appeal anyway, and with how I'd been feeling, I decided that going through the appeal process would be too much stress for me at this time.

I was able to get my driver's license renewed, so this issue will not affect my ability to drive a vehicle in the meantime, I just can't use my own vehicle. I'm looking at possibly borrowing a car from a relative or signing up for one of those carshare services.

On a positive note, I'd just like to add that this situation has prompted me to take a good, hard look at my life and commit myself to making some positive changes so that I can avoid a mess like this again in the future. I'm getting the appropriate treatment now for the health issue, was able to hash out an adjusted schedule with my employer, I bought a cheap used bike and got it fixed up, etc. I'm going to look for additional temporary work in easy busing distance, and look for something more permanent once I can drive my own vehicle again.

I'm trying to look at this as a brief adventure, and as an impetus to make good changes in my life. Walking or biking more, driving less, shopping locally...these are all commitments that I've always theoretically adhered to, but having access to a car made it so easy to not put in the effort to do these things. (I suffer from social anxiety, so not being able to use the car as a crutch to avoid people, will, I suspect, be of much benefit in the long run.)

I know this was a sort of random question and I was really freaking out when I posted it. Thanks so much to everyone who replied; I appreciate it. I'm going to mark this as resolved.
posted by cardinality at 8:37 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

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