The National Driver Register and Other Nightmares

by Ian Grasso

05.16.08

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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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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5 Comments

  1. I too had a run-in with the NDR when I moved from Oregon to Washington. Somebody named Ryan Kevin Miller had his license suspended in New York State. When I, Kevin Ryan Miller, tried to get a WA license, I was denied becuase I was flagged in the NDR.

    I had to FedEx a certified letter with a copy of my Oregon DL and my Social Security number to a clerk in Albany, NY, who then sent me back a certified notice that I was not the same person who had committed the offense that was shown in the NDR. It was truly a frustrating experience, I feel your pain!

  2. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I have had a lot of revoked licenses in different states over the last 20 years (speeding) and I now I wonder if I’ll be able to get a license in another state.

  3. Same thing happened to me. I went to renew my drivers license, and was handed a form telling me i couldnt renew because i had a suspended license in west virginia! I havent driven thru West Virginia for nearly 10 years. After long phone calls apparently someone having the same first and last name as i do had their license suspended. Still trying to get my license renewed here, may teke up to 30 days. Completely crazy, these records should be filed by drivers license number not by names.

  4. Greetings,

    I understand that driving is a privilege know that my opinion means about as much as a vote but here it goes. The National Driver’s Registry is a good idea on paper; it is absolute rubbish in the real world. The reason, how could the U.S. establish a nationwide system without nationwide laws on each State. The statute of limitations on each State is different.

    This NDR is supposed to keep dangerous and repeated offenders from obtaining a driver’s license. The NDR uses pre-historic data dating back from… let’s say… ever. Why are minor traffic issues showing up on this system? It is a way for the State to rape you out of more money and there is nothing anyone can do about it. They are stealing money from the citizens for outdated information that is not dangerous to others.

    For instance, I received a fine for driving with an expired driver’s permit in 1982 in Illinois. It was thrown out in 1983. I was 18 years old and lived in Illinois. In 1986, I was granted an Illinois Driver’s License and has had such for many many years while living in Illinois. Had there been a fee due, I would have paid, had I known about the likes of such. After 30+ years, the Illinois DMV is going to suspend my SC driver’s license for the unpaid “reinstatement” fee. They said that the delay was because my name was spelled differently on my driver’s permit than it was on my driver’s license. I thought that the DMV uses more information than just a person’s name; the exact same license number on my permit was also on my IL Driver’s license; I had the same social number; I renewed my license in IL many times; had car smog checked; purchased new vehicles; I have always paid my parking tickets; I have been stopped by the police at least twice per month on routine checks. Something should have come up then that a fee was due. How is the DMV and Driver’s Registry able to get away with such madness. I highly recommend that everyone write to their State and Government officials for a cap on the age of the data that can be used by these Nazi rape agencies. Continuously flood them with e-mail and actual letters and if a limit is granted, these agencies should be FORCED to produce a refund. This is absolute madness. I must pay the fee to protect my SC driver’s license. I have always been a good citizen everywhere I lived; thinking that I paid everything leaving no strings behind; to see this madness is horrid. Many other people have similar complaints. Keep writing and complaining; keep writing radio and TV stations until someone will post a story of this shameful practice.

  5. I think it was ten years ago, maybe five, that I had my first NDR run-in with my namesake. He has the same full name and birthday but has run afoul of the laws of the great state of TX. I was able to get through it and get my license renewal approved within about three days and multiple phone calls to all parties if I recall correctly with the help of my insurance agent friend.

    Time for renewal again today, and guess what?
    Yes, the teller at the RMV can’t do anything about it, I have to get the record cleared through Texas. Also my ‘not me’ letter from last time won’t suffice because it needs to be dated within the past year. A nice woman at the Dept of Public Reference in Texas was willing to get on the phone to inform Massachusetts that the perp and I don’t share the same race or social security number for starters. But nope, not good enough for the teller, and nobody at the Attleboro RMV had authority to override the flag. So into the bureaucratic morass I go.

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