NH DMV to suspend licenses for unpaid search and rescue costs

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

Don’t do dumb things and get lost in the wilderness of New Hampshire if you don’t want to foot the bill for search and rescue. The NH state senate recently passed a bill allowing the department of motor vehicles to suspend the driver’s license of individuals that refuse to cover the Fish and Game department’s search and rescue costs for missions it feels were due to the person’s negligence.

First, yes. New Hampshire can charge you if Fish and Game officials believe you were “negligent in creating a situation where a rescue was required.” Lawmakers created the rule in 2008, and Fish and Game said that around two dozen rescues each year fall into the negligent category. The department has a 61 percent success rate collecting on these debts, so it’s possible that ten or more people could lose their licenses for nonpayment each year. The state offers a “get out of jail free” card with its Hike Safe program, though, so if you’re prone to getting lost, it’s a worthwhile $25 or $35 (families) to spend.

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In the ten years since New Hampshire implemented the charging-for-dumb rescue system, Fish and Game has been on 1,890 search and rescue missions with a cost of more than $3 million. Most were for hikers and climbers, while 11 percent were for hunters, anglers, boaters, and off-road vehicles. Runaways/walkaways and individuals with mental illness accounted for 14 percent of searches. 

It’s unclear what New Hampshire Fish and Game considers “negligent,” and there are too many factors impacting rescue costs to guess. Late last year, Seacoastonline estimated that a two-hour search could cost as much as $600, while five-day search and rescue costs could top $150,000. 

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If a person fails to pay, Fish and Game can ask the NH DMV to suspend their license until payment is made. Interestingly, the DMV has to spend $16,000 to update its computer system for the change. The individual can appeal the decision and present evidence to support their request, but if their efforts fail, they could be on the hook for quite a hefty sum. If the license is suspended long enough, a $100 restoration fee is required.

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