Coronavirus is compounding the pain for drivers hit with invalid license suspensions by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday.
Responding to an NBC10 Boston investigation that found hundreds of drivers were sidelined by the RMV, only to have their suspensions modified or reversed, Baker cited COVID-19 as the “biggest challenge” in getting them back on the road.
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Baker didn't address whether the RMV should change its process to make sure drivers aren't unfairly punished, but said until the state reopens, drivers could face delays clearing their names.
His comments followed an NBC10 Boston report that showed the RMV stripped scores of Massachusetts residents of their driving privileges for minor infractions in other states, such as speeding tickets and fender-benders. It interpreted many as reckless driving, which carries an automatic 60-day suspension.
The latest example: Cape driver Mike Murphy, who lost his license for nearly two months. The 21-year-old caused a minor crash in Florida in January, and paid a $165 fine for careless driving.
But Murphy, who serves full-time in the Air National Guard, was shocked when he got a 60-day suspension from the RMV.
And it can take weeks to get the issue resolved.
Murphy served 58 days of his 60-day punishment, only to receive a letter last week indicating his suspension had been annulled, meaning it was deemed invalid and wiped from his record, and he didn't have to pay a $500 fee.
Records reviewed by the NBC10 Boston Investigators showed the number of drivers appealing reckless driving suspensions has skyrocketed since July 2019.
It spiked as the RMV cleared a backlog of notifications from other states, which it had long ignored.
But the number of invalid suspensions also rose. Some 500 appeals were filed by drivers suspended for reckless driving. Of those, 207 were annulled, according to records provided by the Division of Insurance, meaning they were found to be invalid by an appeals board and completely erased from the driver's record.
An additional 218 suspensions were modified, meaning in many of those cases, the driver was allowed back on the road with their license partially or fully reinstated.
Only 14 were upheld on appeal. That's less than 4% of all cases decided by the board.
While RMV officials acknowledge the problem, they say the registry has no way to fix it. States use a dictionary of codes to transmit driving records to one another, and the RMV has no discretion when doling out punishment, according to a spokeswoman.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, a vice chairman of the joint committee that oversees the Department of Transportation, said last week the NBC10 investigation showed there’s something wrong with the RMV process, and called the invalid suspensions “another indication the RMV isn't working well.”
"It is really a very serious issue for people,” he said, “not just an inconvenience. It threatens people's livelihood and health."
The registry revealed last year that it failed to act on thousands of violations committed by Massachusetts drivers in other states, potentially allowing dangerous drivers to stay on the road.
After a fatal crash in New Hampshire, the agency disclosed boxes of paper notifications sat untouched for years inside RMV offices.
In clearing the backlog, Baker said the RMV targeted the most egregious violations first. After a year of work, the system is now “completely up to date,” he said.
“But from our point of view, the lesson learned on this one was to act on the data and the information to eliminate the backlog,” he said, “and then get to the point where we're completely clean and only dealing with new stuff going forward on all those interstate notifications.”