The National Driver Register and Other Nightmares
by Ian Grasso
I’m pretty good at administration and bureaucracy. Without giving any hints to what I do in my real life, let me say that I’ve dealt successfully with the world’s largest bureaucracy for a number of years. So today I went to the Maryland Vehicle Administration with confidence, a clear mind, and a reserve of patience. Of course all of my personal and vehicle paperwork (confirmed beforehand on the MVA website) was organized into labeled folders.
To say I was the star of the show at the MVA would probably be an understatement. I felt like the nice woman at the front desk was going to pull a cord and shower me with confetti and balloons when I quickly showed her all of the required paperwork. “My, aren’t you organized,” she said, her eyes gleaming after a morning of dealing with argumentative customers. “You even have the title filled out correctly.”
That’s right lady, I am THE MAN. Heavyweight Champion of the Annapolis MVA and all things related to car paperwork.
My first task was to register and title my newly purchased 1994 Volvo 940 Wagon (aka the car I bought for my dogs). With all of my papers notarized and paper-clipped, this chore took about five minutes, maybe four and a half if you are detail oriented. I was quickly out the door with two shiny plates and on to the next task: a Maryland driver’s license.
Two forms of identification: check. Proof of Residence: check. Eyes: 20/20. Picture: stunning. No drivers test necessary: obviously.
At this point, you can mentally queue the record and prepare for the screech.
“Sir, you currently have a suspended license in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the bored clerk said without even a hint of drama. “Therefore, we cannot issue you a license in the State of Maryland. Take this form and call the National Driver Register. Have a nice day.”
“Uh, I have never driven in Massachusetts, and the last time I was there was almost 5 years ago,” I said, stunned that my perfect plan had become enmeshed in what could be at best a bureaucratic error or at worst a case of identity theft.
“Sorry sir, there is nothing we can do here,” the clerk replied. “Fill out this form after contacting the National Driver Register or the Massachusetts Register of Motor Vehicles.”
Back at home and extremely aggrevated, a quick Google search told me everything I needed to know about the National Driver Register. It is a function of the NHTSA, probably funded through Homeland Security, and is summed up well by its website:
The National Driver Register (NDR) is a computerized database of information about drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended, or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations such as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. State motor vehicle agencies provide NDR with the names of individuals who have lost their privilege or who have been convicted of a serious traffic violation.
While I have certainly been drunk in Massachusetts (after watching my Tigers get run off the field at Fenway), I have never driven while drunk in Massachusetts, and I have certainly never operated a motor vehicle nor had the opportunity to meet one of Massachusetts’ finest in a compromising position.
My phone call to the NDR was picked up on the first ring, surprisingly. Unsurprisingly, the representative was vaguely rude, eating on the phone, and suggested that I send a notarized letter to the NHTSA requesting a Freedom of Information Act inquiry into my NDR status. The information provided after the receipt of this letter would have to be delivered to the Massachusetts RVA to clear my case. Estimated time of delivery: three weeks.
Awesome. I was now firmly in the belly of the bureaucratic beast, and with little hope of resolution from the federal government I called the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I spent one hour and thirty minutes on hold listening to elevator music and a man with a deep Mass accent say “We are experiencing usually heavy call volume (yeah, all of the people who your state is screwing are on the phone), your call is important to us (yeah right), please stay on the line and we will be with you as soon as possible (after you finish your mandated 10 minute hourly break).”
Julie from the Mass RVA defied my poor expectationz and figured everything out for me in about ten minutes on the phone and a quick fax of my driver’s license and social security card. Apparently, someone with my same last name and birthday had committed some crime against humanity and lost their license.
The NDR database, when flagging my record, didn’t pick out the fact that the offender and I HAD DIFFERENT FIRST NAMES. Grasso is not that common of a last name, so I feel for those Smith’s and Walker’s out there the next time they have to renew a license.
This NDR obviously needs some work. It is typical of our government’s poorly executed attempts to gather more information on citizens while putting lip service to respecting privacy laws. It is also typical, with the exception of Julie, for these flawed bureaucracies to take the “not my problem” attitude when faced with obvious errors in the system.
When I receive the verification that I am not a criminal on the run from Massachusetts in a few weeks, I will try this all over again. I’ll be organized, hopefully the government will be too – but don’t bet on it.
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