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Treated Like a Terrorist by the DMV

The author tries to renew his drivers license and runs afoul of the catch-a-terrorist system in the DMV.
 
 
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I am not a terrorist.

How can I prove this in these paranoid times? Easy. The New York Department of Motor Vehicles took my $30 payment over the phone to clear what they said was a record of my NY drivers license having once been withdrawn, and informed the National Driver Register in Washington that I'm a good guy deserving of a renewal of my Pennsylvania drivers license.

Let me explain.

After 9-11, Congress and the Bush Department of Homeland Security went into overdrive passing things like the USA PATRIOT Act, the establishment of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to monitor air passengers and to develop lists of people to harass at air terminals, a network of black sites to detain and torture suspected terrorists, and more recently the National Driver Register, a federal data bank designed to link all drivers licenses and car registrations to a central computer system, and thus ferret out would be terrorists trying to create false identities courtesy of the state DMVs.

I, like uncounted tens of thousands of innocent Americans, ran afoul of this latest catch-a-terrorist system as my Pennsylvania drivers license, which I first obtained in 1997 when I moved from New York to Pennsylvania, came up for a third renewal. Several months ahead of my renewal date, I got a coldly worded and ominous letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles saying my license could not be renewed because the new federal data base was reporting that my New York license had been "withdrawn" by the NY DMV.

When I called the Pennsylvania DMV to explain that my New York license had never been withdrawn or suspended (it had to have been in good order for me to have used it under the state's reciprocity agreement with neighboring New York to obtain my new Pennsylvania license), and to ask what the problem might be, I was told that they couldn't tell me, because the federal report doesn't say what the problem is. Nor is there any way to contact or appeal to Washington.

My only recourse was to deal with the New York State DMV -- probably one of the blackest of bureaucratic black holes known to man.

I called the number that the Pennsylvania DMV provided, and found myself connected to a maddening automated system which had no options that could respond to my problem, and that offered no way to reach a human being. Finally, by calling the media relations office of the Pennsylvania DMV and using my reporting credentials, I was able to get someone who could at least check enough into the case with New York to establish that the problem was that when I moved to Pennsylvania, transferring my car registration from New York to Pennsylvania, New York kept my car's registration active in that state. (I don't know what I would have done had I not been a journalist.) Then, since I had stopped paying for New York car insurance when I switched over to Pennsylvania plates and Pennsylvania insurance, my New York insurer had sent in word to the New York DMV saying my car no longer had insurance.

Never mind that my car was by then in Pennsylvania and properly insured for months before the date that New York showed my car to have become uninsured. Pennsylvania couldn't do anything about it because the federal law says they may not issue me a license as long as there is a problem with my license in another state. There is no statute of limitations on any of this, and no method of appeal of the federal listing.

 
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