Bogdan Stefanescu can get behind the wheel of his car and drive again. After trying for weeks to convince the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to reverse a mistaken suspension, he doesn’t take it for granted.
Stefanescu got a letter from the RMV in May saying his license was suspended for failing to carry insurance. The violation was dated two years earlier, and recorded in New Jersey, where he previously lived.
“I smiled and I said, ‘It’s a mistake,’” he recalled.
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At the time of the supposed violation, Stefanescu had already moved to Massachusetts, and he was licensed and insured in the Bay State.
But after three trips to the RMV office in Worcester, carrying proof of insurance, and a copy of his New Jersey driving record, Stefanescu couldn’t convince the RMV to lift the suspension.
“It was very frustrating,” he told the NBC10 Investigators. “It’s unreasonable to keep suspending somebody’s driving license without a reason.”
As the RMV continues to sift through a massive backlog of driving violations that came to light last year, the agency has pulled thousands of potentially dangerous Massachusetts drivers off the road for infractions they committed previously in other states.
But in the process, the agency has also punished scores of innocent drivers, taking away their licenses in error, and forcing some into a frustrating appeals process that can take weeks to resolve.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said his office receives a steady stream of calls from constituents asking for help with the RMV.
The problem was exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic, as customers have been forced to wait outside some RMV offices in socially distanced lines.
“This is a very, very big problem and there are a lot of people impacted,” Lesser said.
Seven members of a New England motorcycle club were killed on June 21, 2019, when a truck pulling a car hauler crashed into the group. The man driving the truck had previously been charged with drunken driving in Connecticut, and his license should have been suspended, but state officials failed to act on two notifications they had received.
In the wake of the crash, transportation officials revealed that the RMV failed to process thousands of notifications it received from other states, allowing them to pile up in boxes for years.
New records obtained by the NBC10 Investigators provide the most complete picture to date of the scale of that RMV backlog. They show the RMV issued at least 7,600 suspensions in the wake of the New Hampshire crash for out-of-state driving violations it had failed to previously document.
Those violations all dated to before 2019, meaning they were at least six months old by the time the RMV took action.
Among those suspensions were at least six tied to fatal crashes in other states, and nearly 2,400 suspensions for drunk driving charges. Some dated back more than 40 years ago.
“I really view this as two issues,” Lesser explained. “You have an immediate safety issue for the public, which is there were people that did some really serious things that went unprocessed with no consequences.”
And on the other hand, he continued, many others – like Stefanescu – who shouldn’t be suffering the consequences of the RMV’s administrative failures.
“The idea that someone’s entire life unravels, their license is revoked because of something so small that happened in another state so long ago, I think strikes most people as unfair,” he said.
The RMV did not respond by NBC10 Boston's deadline for an interview request with the registrar about its progress addressing the backlog. The agency did not respond to questions posed in writing Tuesday morning regarding erroneous suspensions, and others that date back decades.
Stefanescu contacted NBC10 after he saw how we helped other drivers navigate suspensions. Within a day after we contacted the state about his case, Stefanescu finally got the green light to drive again.
“Thank you very much …” he said. “You really helped me and took me out of this trouble.”