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Thousands of Maryland drivers get only days' notice to renew registration

When Jim Maguire returned to his Pikesville home recently after a week out of town, he found a reminder from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to renew the registration on his car waiting in the pile of mail.

"I was just going to set it aside and look at it in another month," the longtime Marylander said. "I just assumed it didn't apply to me immediately."

Luckily he didn't, because it did.

Maguire, 53, was one of thousands of Marylanders who were sent notices to renew their vehicle registrations days before their tags were due to expire. Ordinarily, the Motor Vehicle Administration sends such notices between 45 and 60 days before expiration.

A spokesman for the agency blamed a problem with a high-capacity mailer, a machine it uses to send out the notices.

The spokesman, Buel Young, said the agency does not know whether more owners let their registrations expire as a result, because it does not track such lapses.

The Maryland State Police do not track the number of people pulled over for expired tags, a spokeswoman said, so she could not say whether there has been an increase in recent weeks.

Young said the Motor Vehicle Administration is not required by law to let drivers know that their registrations are about to expire, and there is no fee for late renewal.

Still, the agency has long sent the notices to registered Maryland drivers as a courtesy, and many — like Maguire — have come to rely on them.

The notice Maguire received was postmarked June 23, he said. His registration — like that of thousands of others — was due to expire June 30, two days after he returned home.

"I had literally one business day to fix this," he said. "I was shocked."

Maguire jumped online and renewed his registration there. That's a perk of modern technology that has helped the Motor Vehicle Administration streamline its renewal process. The agency began offering online, phone and kiosk renewals in 2011.

Maguire, an independent computer consultant who has worked for the Department of Transportation, emailed the agency to ask about the notification delay.

"I suspect this is a wide-scale late mailing, so if other people are in this boat, then certainly thousands of drivers will be in the position of possibly missing the renewal deadline," he wrote.

He said it could have been worse.

"I can imagine someone flying back into BWI and having to deal with that with a ticket on the way home," he said.

Young said the late notice effected about 13,000 of the more than 165,000 drivers whose vehicle registrations were set to expire June 30.

"Once the machine went down, that's the number that hadn't been sent out yet," he said.

All drivers received some sort of notice ahead of their registrations' expiration, Young said. Those who received the shortest notice were those drivers whose email addresses are not on file with the agency, he said.

The mailer that broke is now back online, Young said, and the agency is in the process of procuring a new, higher-capacity mailer to replace it, at an estimated cost of $130,000.

He said the agency has also learned from the lapse.

"We've put in checks for production measures to make sure our machines are operating efficiently," he said. "We've also put in procedures so that if something like this were to happen again, we could use one of our less-efficient mailing machines to continue operations."

Young said the agency strongly encourages all drivers to sign up for email notifications, which he said "provides a redundancy" of communication.

Young apologized for any inconvenience the late notice may have caused drivers.

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