How I learned this (and why it was necessary that we establish this fact) provided a couple of valuable lessons last week.
Our saga began two weeks ago, when I went to the Calhoun County Administration Office to renew my driver’s license. We’ve all been trained to expect long lines in this era of shrinking government budgets and reduced state and local workforces, so it was a surprise that there was no line at the Calhoun County Commissioner of License Office.
All was going well. The clerk took my old license, took my picture and took my money for the new license. Then there was problem. The money and my old license were returned to me. The friendly clerk said her computer was showing I’d been flagged. She couldn’t tell me more, except that I needed to clear things up at the State Trooper’s Post in Jacksonville.
A quick call to the Jacksonville office went like this:
Me: I’ve been told there’s a problem in getting my license that I need to clear up. Can you tell me what’s up?
Them: Sure, come on by our offices and we can straighten it out.
Nothing like the knowledge that a government database suggests there’s a problem associated with your name to keep you on your toes.
A visit to the Jacksonville office initially led me to believe my problems were merely a mirage. Once more, a clerk took my picture and started me along the renewal process. Then we hit a roadblock.
“There’s a problem with your record in New Jersey,” the clerk said.
“New Jersey?” I replied. “I’ve never driven a car in New Jersey. And other than time spent in the Newark airport, I’ve never even been there.”
The clerk replied, “Well, you are going to have to get this straightened out in New Jersey before we can issue a license.”
The phone number of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission was provided. Oh, boy, I thought; this is where I bog down in a thicket of bureaucracy. Venting about frustrating visits to the typical DMV office is a reliable punch line, right?
In less than 15 minutes, two very helpful clerks from New Jersey patiently listened to my story and directed me as to how I could clear up what was obviously a mix-up between my driving record and one belonging to someone from New Jersey with a similar name and other vitals.
By the next day, I had an official letter from the state of New Jersey stating to anyone who cared that my driving record was fine by them.
With my New Jersey seal of approval, I returned to Jacksonville and secured a new license three days ahead of the old license’s expiration date.
My new friends at the Jacksonville State Trooper’s Post told me these things happen occasionally when they search the National Driver Registry. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes the registry as “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.”
Makes sense, right? A driver who runs amok in Georgia shouldn’t be able to travel to Alabama and automatically purchase a license here.
The clerks in Jacksonville told me they sometimes come across actual fugitives when processing someone for a driver’s license. Standard procedure is to (a.) alert an arresting officer and (b.) engage the suspect in casual conversation until a State Trooper shows up. As this explanation and accompanying anecdotes began to drag on, I wondered if I should check my back to see if there was an officer standing behind me with handcuffs out.
Alas, it was not to be.
The big takeaways are twofold. First, don’t bother me with nightmare tales from the DMV. Everyone I encountered in both Alabama and New Jersey was friendly, courteous and helpful. They receive high marks for good customer service.
The second point is more serious. Databases like the National Driver Registry are valuable tools to ensure bad guys don’t escape justice. However, as my episode proves, they aren’t foolproof. We rely on them exclusively at our peril.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis