Utah sees a big spike in people not registering their cars after reminder postcards are stopped

Lawmaker introduces bill to reinstate the postcards.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A long line of cars at the South Valley DMV in Draper on April 10, 2020 during the pandemic.

The Utah State Tax Commission decided to save money by halting postcard reminders to motorists just before it was time to renew their vehicle registration.

Since then, more than one of every four car owners failed to register vehicles on time, according to data the commission provided to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, says stopping the postcards last year was a mistake that needs to be reversed, and introduced a bill to restart them unless individuals instead choose to receive email reminders.

“A lot of people,” he said, “just felt like they had the rug pulled out from under them.”

The lawmaker said many told him they “never even thought about” when to re-register because the postcard would come and then they would handle it with monthly bills. “And a week later it [a license plate sticker] arrives in the mail and I put it on my car and then all is good.”

He adds that the Tax Commission’s offer to have people sign up for email reminders instead of the postcards doesn’t work for many.

“In my area out in rural Utah, a lot of folks don’t have internet access and they were totally unaware of what was happening,” he said of his eastern Utah district.

(Courtesy of Utah House of Represenatives) Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen.

Data provided to The Tribune by the Tax Commission shows that during the 12 months before the pandemic (when postcard reminders were sent), registration was not renewed for an average of 5.9% of vehicles. During the pandemic but when postcards were still sent, that nearly doubled to 10.3%.

But for registrations due in September — the first month the Tax Commission stopped the reminders, and the only month for which data was provided after the postcard halt — that ratio more than quadrupled to 27%, meaning more than one of every four vehicles did not renew on time.

Following complaints and late renewals, the Tax Commission last month sent out what it said was one last reminder that postcards would no longer be sent — and it urged motorists to sign up for reminders online.

Division of Motor Vehicles Director Monte Roberts said at that time, “We made the hard decision to stop sending the reminder postcards due to budget cuts.” Roberts has said the state would save just under $500,000 a year by moving to email reminders.

He added that state officials were concerned that some vehicles could be impounded, so the additional final postcard was sent. “Whatever the reason a registration has not been completed, we just don’t want people getting caught and having to pay fines,” Roberts said at the time.

Chew’s bill, HB170, allows the state to charge a fee to cover the cost of mailing an individual’s notification.

Chew said some of the people who complained about the end of reminder postcards said “they would certainly pay the postage to get it, if that’s what the issue was.”

Meanwhile, the Tax Commission has urged citizens to go to dmv.utah.gov to sign up for an email reminder, or to renew online at renewalexpress.utah.gov.