Pennsylvania First Party Benefits vs a Registered Uninsured Vehicle

Many individuals will drop the insurance on a registered Pennsylvania vehicle but fail to surrender the plates to PennDOT, which keeps the registration on that vehicle in effect.

Those same individuals may be unaware that first party benefits will not be payable to that individual if any owned registered vehicles are not properly insured.

Section 1714 of the PA Motor Vehicle Code provides that keeping a registered vehicle without insurance prevents the owner from being able to claim first-party benefits, even if he is injured in a vehicle that carries insurance (see below).

§ 1714. Ineligible claimants.
An owner of a currently registered motor vehicle who does not have financial responsibility or an operator or occupant of a recreational vehicle not intended for highway use, motorcycle, motordriven cycle, motorized pedalcycle or like type vehicle required to be registered under this title cannot recover first party benefits.

This provision is meant to ensure that "one may not receive medical and wage loss benefits unless he/she has the ability to provide them to another."  While the law’s intent is for public financial responsibility, its application raises huge concerns for individuals who have innocently kept the tag on an inoperable or seasonal vehicle and have cancelled coverage for the duration of the repair or the off-season.

The seasonal registration of vehicles as provided for in 75 P.S. § 1307 (see below) can address some of the issues raised by this provision.

§ 1307. Period of registration.
(a.1) Seasonal registration.--Upon application on a form prescribed by the department, the owner or lessee of a passenger car, recreational motor vehicle, motorcycle, truck or farm vehicle which does not have a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 9,000 pounds may register the vehicle with the department for a period of successive months of less than one year.

The applicant shall specify the period of months during which the vehicle shall be registered. Except when the department initially converts a currently valid annual registration to a seasonal registration, the annual fee prescribed for the vehicle by Chapter 19 (relating to fees) shall be paid in full by the applicant regardless of the number of months chosen for registration by the applicant. Upon receipt of the appropriate fee and the properly completed form, including all information required by this chapter, the department shall issue a seasonal registration that shall expire on the last day of the expiration month chosen by the registrant. No insurer of a vehicle belonging to any owner or lessee who obtains a seasonal registration and who applies for or receives a reduced automobile insurance premium on account thereof shall be required to provide any contractual coverage, whether in the form of the provision of a defense or the payment of first-party or third-party benefits or otherwise, to the owner or lessee in connection with any event occurring during that part of the year in which the vehicle is not registered; and such owner or lessee shall be treated for all purposes, including, without limitation, ascertaining rights to stack coverages and to uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, as a person who does not own that vehicle and has no duty to carry financial responsibility on it for that part of the year.

If you decide to cancel coverage on a vehicle because:

  1. it is inoperable or under restoration, OR
  2. it is used on a seasonal basis, OR
  3. it is used occasionally (such as a classic, collectible or antique car),
please be aware that if you do not handle your registration properly with PennDOT, not only will you be in violation of the registration statute, and face consequences on that end, but you might lose first-party benefits on all of your other insured vehicles.

What options do you have in order to maintain first-party benefits at all times?

You must send the tag back to PennDOT immediately. This will suspend the registration and ensure that the you are compliant with Title 75. To return the license plate, fill out form MV-141 and send it to Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Return Tag Unit, P.O. Box 68597, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8597. Form MV-141 will be stamped by PennDOT upon receipt and returned to the sender, thus evidencing receipt.

As an alternative, your client may return the tag directly to any PennDOT agent.   Please be aware that the agent will charge an additional fee for this service.
You can choose to maintain insurance on the vehicle.  If it is possible, you may reduce liability limits to the minimum legal requirement on that vehicle only in order to reduce the premium.
If, and only if, you qualify, you may apply to PennDOT for seasonal registration.  If properly handled, you will be able to drop Financial Responsibility during the off-season.  However, due care and diligence in choosing the new expiration date for the registration is very important.  You should be clear as to when the registration ends and make sure the financial responsibility matches that date. The vehicle must never be operated during the off-season.

Section 1307 will protect:

  1. the insurer, who will not have to pay any claim during the "off season" (when the vehicle is considered not registered), and
  2. the client, because it will maintain his first-party benefits whole.
Keep in mind that the majority of seasonal registration applications are incorrectly filed.  Seasonal registration is more likely to be applicable when you are dealing with recreational vehicles, motorcycles, or trucks or farm vehicles with a gross weight not exceeding 9,000 pounds. It is not applicable to antique, classic and collectible vehicles, or vehicles that are inoperable or under repair/restoration.

To read PennDOT’s Fact Sheet about seasonal registration, click here.

To apply for seasonal registration, click here.