Note: You can find definitions for words followed by * in the Glossary
- Getting a Driver's License
- Buying a Car
- Leasing a Car
- Financing the Purchase or Lease
- Road Rules
- Seat Belts
Basic information. The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) issues Maine driver's licenses and Maine state identification (ID). The BMV has many offices located throughout the State. You must give the BMV a valid Social Security number or Maine state ID card when you apply for a driver's license. You must also prove that you live in Maine and have lived here for at least 30 days. You can use bills, receipts, leases or other documents that have your physical address to prove this. Or you can use a form from the BMV requiring sworn statements from two people who know that you are living in Maine. Having a post office box is not good enough proof. You do not have to be living here permanently. Living in Maine temporarily counts - including students and seasonal workers.
Note: If you are undocumented (you do not have a legal visa or work permit), you are not eligible for a Maine driver's license or State identification (ID) card. Maine law changed in November, 2008 . Maine now requires all applicants for driver's licenses and State ID cards to prove that they they have legal status in the U.S. Even if you already have a driver's license from Maine or another state, you are no longer eligible for one in Maine if you are undocumented. This means that you cannot renew your driver's license if your old one is expiring . Also, you cannot get a new driver's license if you have never had one. (The same is true for State ID cards.)
If you are in Maine on a temporary visa, you cannot apply for a driver's license until you have lived in Maine for 30 days. Your driver's license will last only as long as your I-94 card does. Also, if you have less than 120 days remaining before your I-94 card or other immigration document will expire, you cannot get a driver's license. But if you are eligible to extend your immigration status, you may be able to get a temporary (60 day) license while you apply for an immigration extension. (The same is true for State ID cards .) It can be complicated for noncitizens to get driver's licenses or State IDs. You may want to speak with an experienced immigration advocate to find out the current Maine law before trying to apply. Also, if you are legally here and have any problem getting a driver's license or State ID card, contact an experienced immigration advocate to help you. (See Resources below.)
To get a driver's license, you must take a driver knowledge test, a vision screening and a road test. You must have two forms of identification. The driver's knowledge and vision screening tests can be taken at any branch office of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. When you are ready to take a road test, you should mail the road test request card to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. (See below.) You will be scheduled for a road test at the branch office nearest you. Effective October 1, 2003 all licenses are required to be photo licenses.
Getting a license or learner's permit costs money. The examination fee is $10.00. A first license or a renewed license costs $30.00. It is good for 6 years. If you are over 65, the fee is $21.00. The license is good for 4 years.
Maine has a "graduated driver's licensing system." This mostly affects new drivers who at under the age of 18. Some of the rules also affect new drivers under the age of 21.
Learner's permits. If you are 15 years old, you can get a learner's permit. You may not take the road test or get a license until you are 16.
If you are under 21 and get a learner's permit, you must hold the permit for 180 days (6 months) before applying to take the road test. You cannot use a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle.
If you are over 21 and get a learner's permit, you do not have to wait to apply to take the road test. You cannot use a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle.
Licenses. If you are under 18, you must have a Driver's Education Completion certificate to get a license. To get a certificate, you must complete a driver's education course. They are offered by private instructors. Your initial license is an "intermediate license." You may not:
- carry passengers other than immediate family unless another licensed driver who is at least 20 accompanies you, has held a license for two years, and is occupying the seat beside the driver
- operate a motor vehicle between 12:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.
- operate a motor vehicle while using a cellular phone
You must have an intermediate license for 180 days (6 months) before you can get an unrestricted license.
If you are between 18 and 21, you must complete 35 hours of practice driving, which includes 5 hours of night driving. These practice sessions must be held after you have received a learner's permit. A driver who is at least 20 years old and holds a driver's license that has not been suspended or revoked in the previous two years must supervise you.
The first license issued to a person under age 21 is temporary for two years. The first license issued to a person over 21 is temporary for one year.
Out-of-state licenses. If you have a valid out-of-state license, you are not required to take a written test or a road test. You will, however, have to take a vision screening. You must turn in your out-of-state license. You must also pay $10.00 as an application fee and $30.00 for the license.
Choices. You have three choices when buying a car:
- buy a new car from a car dealer
- buy a used car from a used car dealer
- buy a used car in private sale.
Buying a new car from a dealer. Dealers have several obligations to potential buyers. The car must have a sticker on it explaining the car's features and the manufacturer's suggested retail price. The price listed is only a suggested price, not a fixed one. Customers can usually bargain down a dealer on the price of a car. The Maine Attorney General has established "Unfair Trade Practice Rules" which protect consumers when they buy new cars. These are some of the rules:
- Dealers must be truthful about any service, product or charge listed on the sticker.
- Dealers must tell you about any "extras" on the vehicle, such as rust proofing and accessories. They must also tell you that you can buy a vehicle without them.
- Dealers cannot sell you optional equipment or service contract without telling you about related warranties* (guarantees or promises) you already have with through the purchase of the car, either through the manufacturer or under Maine law.
- Dealers cannot advertise a car at one price, and then refuse to sell you that vehicle unless you pay for optional features.
New car buyers are also protected by the "Lemon Law." (A "lemon" is a car that has a defect. The defect must substantially affect the use, safety, or value of the vehicle. You must have tried to get the car repaired several times.) If your car is a lemon, the manufacturer must either replace your car or refund your money. The Maine Attorney General's Office has a Lemon Law Arbitration Program to help consumers. You must apply for the program within two years of the date of purchase and within the manufacturer's warranty period.
If you buy a new car, make sure you understand everything in the written materials that accompany the sale. Purchasing a used car from a dealer. Used car dealers also have obligations to the customers. A "Used Car Buyer's Guide" must be posted as a window sticker on each vehicle. It must state:
- the vehicle make and year
- significant mechanical defects and the date of repair
- collision damage if it cost more than $2,000 to repair
- any warranties the dealer makes concerning future repairs
- the time period the warranty covers
The dealer must also make the name and address of the previous owner available to you if you request it.
Used car dealers can disclaim implied warranties under Maine law. Most sellers of products must guarantee that the product is fit for ordinary purposes (See Consumer Protection.) Used car dealers do not have to. If the dealer disclaims implied warranties, he must say so on the sticker.
Used cars must be able to pass inspection. If your used car does not pass inspection, you may take the car back to the dealer. The dealer must make the necessary repairs for free.
Because engines are not part of the State inspection, the engine of a used car is not covered under the inspection standards. This means if your used car passes inspection, but the motor fails, you have no recourse against the dealer.
You must sign and date a "disclosure statement." This document states you have received a copy of the buyer's guide. Used car dealers must keep a copy of the statement for three years. If the dealer violates any of the warranties, you may be able to return the vehicle and get your money back or sue him in court. (See Civil Suits.) If you buy a used car, make sure you understand everything in the written materials that accompany the sale.
Whenever you are considering buying used car, have an independent mechanic examine it.
Purchasing a used car in a private sale. If you buy a used car through a private sale, you will probably have to pay cash or cash equivalent. You can find cars for sale in local newspapers, through used goods guides, or by looking for cars with for sale signs in their windows. Keep in mind that the warranties discussed above do not apply in a private sale. Consequently, there are some things you should know and ask about:
- Has the car ever been in an accident?
- Has the car passed inspection in the most current year?
- Are receipts for work on the car available?
Have a mechanic inspect the car before purchasing it. Make sure the seller gives you a release showing that any loans on the car have been paid off.
Many people choose to lease a new car instead of buy one. Leasing means you sign a contract to rent the car for a set period of time, such as two or three years. Leasing sometimes has the advantage a low monthly payment and the coverage of the manufacturer's warranties and Maine law during the lease term. You also can return the car to the dealer at the end of the term or buy the car.
Leases are complex transactions involving many terms. These terms are negotiable, but may affect the lease payment. The Maine Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide states that consumer laws have not caught up with leasing transactions and those dealers do not have to disclose key items. Be sure you understand all the terms before you decide to lease.
If you buy a new or used car from a dealer, or lease a car from the dealer, you can finance your payment with a car loan. Your dealer will help you apply for a car loan. Alternatively, you can check into getting a loan from your bank. In either case, you will want to shop around to make sure you get the best deal and lowest interest rate. If you sign for a car loan you will have to make payments each month until you have paid the amount you owe for the car plus any interest on the loan. As with any loan, your credit will play a role in the lender's decision. (See Money Matters.)
After you buy a car you must register it with the state. To register your car, go to your town office. Bring the title of your vehicle if the vehicle is 15 years old or newer. You don't need to bring a title if the vehicle is 16 years old or older. You should also bring your current, dated insurance card. (See "Insurance" section below.) Fill out a title application if necessary, and pay all fees. Cost for registration varies. The base registration fee is $25 for automobiles, plus the excise tax based on the book value of the vehicle. When you first register you also pay the sales tax (5% of bill of sale).
Cars are registered annually on a staggered basis. Generally, registrations expire one year from the month issued. You will have to renew your registration every year. In some cases you can also renew your registration at the town office. (See Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Resources.)
Your car must be insured. You must show proof of insurance when you register your car. You must carry liability insurance. You may want to purchase more than the State requires. Some common types of insurance are:
- Bodily Injury Liability - Pays your legal defense costs and claims against you if your car injures or kills someone. This protection covers you, family members living with you and others driving with your permission.
- Property Damage Liability -Pays your legal defense costs and claims against you if your car damages someone else's property. This coverage does not cover your property, including your auto.
- Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection - Pays medical expenses for you and others riding in your car resulting from an accident. It also pays for you or your family members injured while riding in another's car or while walking.
- Personal Injury Protection (No-fault) - Many states require that you carry this type of insurance. This coverage pays benefits for the cost of injuries to you or your passengers resulting from an automobile accident regardless of who was at fault in the accident. It also applies to you and relatives living in your household who are injured in other automobiles or who are struck by a vehicle while walking. The main benefit of this coverage is that in an accident each driver's expenses are paid by his/her own insurance without the need for legal proceedings to determine financial responsibility for the accident.
- Collision - Collision pays for repairs of damage to your car caused by a collision with another vehicle or any other object, regardless of who was responsible.
- Comprehensive Physical Damage - Pays for damages to your car resulting from theft, fire, vandalism, weather-related damage and many other causes.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage - Pays damages for physical injury or death caused by an uninsured driver or a hit and run driver who is legally responsible for the accident. Since not all states require drivers to purchase insurance, Uninsured Motorist coverage is essential to protect yourself.
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage - Pays benefits for bodily injury or death caused by an insured driver whose Liability coverage limit is insufficient to cover the losses incurred. The benefits are paid to you and any passengers in your vehicle, or to any pedestrian you injure.
You are required to have a safety inspection every year. You can get a safety inspection from many local mechanics and auto repair shops - Make sure the shop is licensed by the state to conduct safety inspections. Inspections are regulated by the State Police. (See Resources for the Maine State Police.)
Maine has a Motor Vehicle Repair law that protects consumers. It is designed to protect you from what is called the "5 o'clock surprise" – when you arrive at a repair shop at the end of the day to find the expense of repair your car was much greater than you expected. The law protects you in the following ways:
- You can establish a maximum cost, or a "ceiling," for the cost if repairs. The maximum cannot be exceeded without your permission. If it is, you do not have to pay the additional costs. The ceiling must be in writing.
- You can inspect all replaced parts. You may also keep them unless they must be returned under the manufacturer's warranty.
- Used, rebuilt or reconditioned parts may be installed only with your permission.
- Repair shops must post a sign informing you of your rights. The sign must also state the hourly rate the shop charges.
You must follow the State's traffic laws while driving. You will learn and be tested on these laws before you get your driver's license. Your license may be suspended for thirty days for any of the following offenses:
- failure to stop for a police officer
- leaving the scene of an accident (bodily injury)
- operating alone on permit
- operating a motor vehicle without a license (a crime)
- passing a stopped school bus
- exceeding posted speed by at least 30 miles per hour
- altering a driver's license or registration certificate
- loaning a driver's license
- unlawful use of a driver's license
- displaying a suspended license
- falsifying an application for registration certificate or driver's license
- giving false information to a police officer
If your license is suspended three times, it can be suspended for an additional 120 days. Most other traffic violations result in penalty points on your license. If you have more than 12 "points" in a year, your license can be suspended for up to fifteen days.
Racial Profiling and driving. "Racial profiling" is when police stop or question a person because of the person’s race and not because the police have evidence that the person has done something wrong. Racial profiling by police is illegal but happens anyway. Since September 11, 2001, police all over Maine have been stopping people of color, especially Latinos, and asking them about their nationality or immigration status. Sometimes this happens when the person is on foot or riding a bicycle. Most often this happens when the person is in a car and a minor traffic violation can be used as the excuse for the stop. Latinos and others have been stopped for many types of violations, such as:
- not wearing a seatbelt (you must wear a seatbelt in Maine)
- objects hanging from the car’s rear-view mirror
- running a yellow light
- not using a blinker before turning
Police are then asking not only the driver of the car but also any passengers of color for their documents or immigration status. If the person has no immigration papers with him, the police routinely call Immigration.
If you are the driver of the car, you must show your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance if you are stopped by police. If you do not have a driver’s license, that is a crime. It is likely you will be arrested for that crime, and the police will also turn you over to Immigration.
If you are not the driver of the car and you are asked for identification or any immigration papers, or about your nationality or your immigration status, you have the right to ask the officer if you are under arrest. If the officer says "no," then you have the Constitutional right to not answer; you do not even have to give your name.
If you are a U.S. citizen or immigrant who is legally here in the U.S. and you are asked for your immigration status or papers, you may find it simplest to show the police your valid immigration documents. You are required to carry these with you at all times, unless you are a U.S. citizen.
In any case, please call an experienced immigration advocate or the Maine Civil Liberties Union (see Resources below) as soon as possible to report what happened. Please try to get the name or badge number of the police officer involved, and the type of police (state police, county sheriff, or local police).
If you do not have valid legal status, then the police are likely to turn you over to Immigration where you will be detained. You may be held at Cumberland County Jail by Immigration, and can call the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) for free from the jail to tell ILAP what happened, and to get legal advice about your detention. (See Resources below.)
If you are in a vehicular accident, there are rules you must follow.
If you hit a parked, unoccupied car, leave a note on the vehicle that gives your name, address and telephone number so that the vehicle owner can contact you. If you hit roadside property, try to find the owner to inform her of your name and address.
If you are in an accident with an occupied car, either stationary or moving, stop your car. If someone is injured, offer your help, call a doctor or ambulance immediately, and call the police. Exchange your name, address, phone number, license number and insurance information with the other driver. You can be criminally prosecuted if you leave the scene of an accident without delivering this information.
If you are in a serious accident that involves death, injury or property damage of $1000 or more, you must report the accident to police, state trooper, or county sheriff immediately. You must also fill out an official report on the accident within 48 hours.
Children. A child under 40 pounds must sit in a child safety seat in an automobile. A child under 8 who weighs between 40 and 80 pounds must be secured by a child restraint system, called a "booster seat." Children who are under 12 and weigh less than 100 pounds must sit in the rear seat if possible. Children between the ages of 8 and 18 and are taller than 4'7" must wear a seat belt.
Adults. Everyone in a motor vehicle must wear a seat belt. The fine for a violation is between $50-$250 for primary offenses.
Bureau of Motor Vehicles
29 State House Station
101 Hospital St.
Augusta, ME 04333-0029
TTY (207) 624-9105
Maine Attorney General
6 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333
TTY (207) 626-8865
Maine State Police
36 Hospital St.
Augusta, ME 04333
The Attorney General's Consumer Law Guide is available online at www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/consumer_law_guide.shtml
Immigration Legal Aid in Maine
Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project
309 Cumberland Avenue, Suite 201
P.O. Box 17917
Portland, Maine 04112
207-780-1593 or 1-800-497-8505
Services are free or low-fee depending on income
Private Immigration Lawyers: See the "Immigration Law" listing under "Lawyers" in the Yellow Pages of the phone book.
Updated June 2008; partially updated July 2009