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Manhattan Moment: Maryland's motor vehicle bureaucracy needs an overhaul

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Opinion,Maryland,Diana Furchtgott Roth,Op-Eds,Auto Industry,Manhattan Moment

My adventure with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration began May 28, when a high school senior rammed into the side of my 1995 Jeep. I learned not only how strong was my Jeep, but how totally inefficient is Maryland’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Subaru came out of an alley without stopping and rammed my car, on the driver’s side, just in front of where I was sitting. The Subaru’s bumper fell off and its hood was crumpled. I was uninjured, but my Jeep’s axle was bent and the car needed a new differential. Geico declared it a total loss and wrote me a check for its value.

I was grateful that my trusty 1995 Jeep had preserved my life and I was determined to find another one rather than upgrade to a lighter, more expensive model. Still, Maryland has the some of the strictest car inspection regulations in the nation, and I wanted to make sure the car passed.

It took me until July, but I found another 1995 Jeep on Craigslist. It was tan instead of green, but it had the same comfortable seats, fog lights and gas-guzzling V-8 engine. It had 159,000 miles instead of 120,000, but it came from California, so many of those miles were highway miles. Best of all, it had passed Maryland inspection within the past three months. I bought the car.

That’s when my Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration problems started. Its website clearly states “Maryland Safety Inspection Certificate — The Maryland State Police form certifies that your vehicle meets Maryland safety standards. It is valid for up to 90 days from the date issued.” That turned out not to be exactly true, as my spouse found out during his two-hour visit to the MVA to get license plates.

What the MVA did not say is that a new form is required for each new owner. If the inspection was performed within 90 days but someone else had titled the car in the meantime, then the next owner had to get a new inspection — even if the prior one was done within 90 days. Why doesn’t the MVA state that clearly on its website?

David at Middlebrook Exxon Service Center in Germantown, who had done the previous inspection, reinspected the Jeep and gave me a new certificate. I then took the new inspection certificate back to the MVA, as requested.

Big mistake. Since my spouse had waited to get the original plates, the MVA would not accept the new inspection certificate from me — even though we live at the same address and have the same name. Instead I was given yet another form, requiring my spouse’s signature, allowing me to present the new certificate.

I finally made it back to the MVA on Tuesday. I waited for 90 minutes for my name to be called so I could show the new certificate. Then, I wanted to turn in the old license plates for the old Jeep that was destroyed by the high school senior. Turns out that was a different line, and that took another 45 minutes. Finally, having wasted an entire afternoon, I was finally legal in the eyes of the MVA, the proud owner of another 1995 Jeep.

There is no reason why the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration cannot post correct information on its website, accept forms from spouses and reduce wait times. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels reduced the average wait time at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to 8 minutes and 11 seconds. Why can’t Maryland do the same?

Diana Furchtgott-Roth is director of Economics21.org and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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