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DMV error alarms 30,000

January 24, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

Whoops! Somebody pushed a couple of wrong buttons on a California Department of Motor Vehicles computer just before New Year's Day, mistakenly sending 30,000 car owners letters saying their car registrations were being suspended.

"It's human error. What are you going to do?" asked DMV spokesman Mike Miller. The department moved quickly to contact the affected motorists and offered a "sincere apology."

Although DMV computers have been the butt of jokes for years, the foul-up, which was detected Jan. 3 and fixed five days later, was the first known major snag in the state's almost four-month crackdown on uninsured drivers.

Since Oct. 1, the DMV has sent out about 900,000 suspension and intent-to-suspend letters. DMV officials stress that the computer glitch affected just a tiny percentage of the 22.4 million vehicle owners in California.

"If I got one of those letters, I'd be upset," said John Morton, a San Francisco insurance agent with a client who received an erroneous letter from the DMV.

A 2004 law required insurance companies, beginning in January 2006, to report electronically to the DMV every time a customer bought, renewed or canceled an automobile insurance policy. In July, the computerized information became available to law enforcement officers.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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