A Massachusetts lawmaker is reacting to an NBC10 Boston investigation, which found the Registry of Motor Vehicles is issuing hundreds of invalid license suspensions to drivers for minor out-of-state violations like speeding tickets settled years ago.
Records show many suspensions handed down by the RMV for reckless driving were later thrown out or modified — but only after drivers endured a lengthy appeals process.
"It is just another indication the RMV isn't working well," said Sen. Eric Lesser, a vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. "It is really a very serious issue for people, not just an inconvenience. It threatens people's livelihood and health."
Lesser was an outspoken critic of the agency last summer after a deadly crash revealed the RMV long failed to review motor vehicle violations committed by Massachusetts drivers in other states. For years, the agency allowed paper notifications to stack up in boxes, potentially keeping dangerous drivers on the road.
But as it worked to fix the problem, the RMV created new headaches for hundreds of drivers. Some received 60-day suspensions for fender-benders, speeding and other minor offenses.
In some cases, the RMV interpreted those civil infractions as misdemeanor crimes and issued penalties far out of step with the sanctions drivers faced in other states, the NBC10 Boston Investigators found.
Mike Murphy, a 21-year-old on the Cape, said he was cited for careless driving and paid a $165 ticket after he caused a minor crash in Florida last January.
But Massachusetts doesn't have a careless driving statute, and the RMV likened his offense to reckless driving, which carries a mandatory 60-day license suspension.
The full-time Air National Guardsman has had to rely on rides to the base from his co-workers.
"I think something needs to change because there's been a lot of people, including myself, who have had their lives upset by this process," Murphy said.
Even before the pandemic, drivers had to fight crowded lobbies and long wait times to score a meeting with a suspension hearing officer at the RMV.
But with most in-person meetings on hold amid COVID-19, it can be an agonizing effort to get an employee on the phone.
On Tuesday, here is the message we heard when we called the RMV: "Please note there is currently 103 calls in queue. Your estimated wait time is greater than one hour."
The delays come amid a spike in the number of drivers who say the RMV suspended their license by mistake.
In the first half of 2019 — before the RMV scandal surfaced — there were only 12 appeals for reckless driving suspensions, according to records provided by the Division of Insurance.
Since then, there have been at least 500. And of the cases decided by the Board of Appeals, records show nearly all those suspensions were either thrown out or modified to allow drivers back on the road.
In fact, less than 4% of the reckless driving suspensions were upheld.
"That tells you something is wrong with the machinery and how it's working," Lesser told the NBC10 Boston Investigators. "There needs to be a better job of separating out the truly bad actors versus people who've paid their fines, learned their lesson and moved on."
A spokeswoman for the RMV said the agency doesn't have the statutory authority to use discretion or conduct any preliminary review before doling out those suspensions.
Lesser said that is something the transportation committee should take a closer look at, along with how to reduce the amount of time that elapses before drivers' appeals are decided.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators reached out to the other lawmakers on the committee and are awaiting their responses.