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Hundreds More Driver's Licenses Suspended Amid Mass. RMV Investigation

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack (right) said last month that the administration is still trying to piece together what led to "tens of thousands" of out-of-state driver notifications not being processed since March 2018. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack (right) said last month that the administration is still trying to piece together what led to "tens of thousands" of out-of-state driver notifications not being processed since March 2018. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

Hundreds more drivers have had their Massachusetts licenses suspended as a result of a review of the state's mishandling of out-of-state violation notices as Gov. Charlie Baker and his top transportation adviser announced Friday a "reprioritization" of public safety at the RMV.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said that the licenses of 330 more drivers had been suspended since Monday, bringing the total number of drivers flagged to 876 and the total number of missed notices for serious infractions to 1,108.

The out-of-state notices that have led to the 876 new driving suspensions have been for violations that include operating under the influence, refusal to take a breathalyzer or motor vehicle homicide. New notices arriving from other states are now being processed within one business day, Pollack said.

"The lapses discovered at the registry are unacceptable and the consequences of these lapses have had tragic outcomes," Baker said at a Friday afternoon press conference, called on a quiet day at the capitol after the Fourth of July holiday.

Baker said the RMV serves "both an important customer service role and a critical public safety role," but is falling short in that dual mission.

"The initial review has revealed that the organization has struggled to balance the necessary and appropriate focus, prioritization and allocation of resources to these two missions and this has contributed to create an environment that allowed for the failures that have since been identified," he said.

"It's clear there's an immediate need to reprioritize public safety across the organization," Baker said.

Baker said he is working on legislation to make the state's commercial driving license requirements "more stringent," and he and Pollack said the administration has hired Grant Thornton, a national auditing and accounting firm, to investigate why the RMV in March 2018 appears to have stopped regularly reviewing out-of-state violation notices.

Auditors have already met with members of the staff, Pollack said, and will be on site Monday to begin the review with plans to issue a 30-day interim report and a final report within 60 days. Their investigation will include an examination of the processes in place at the RMV for reviewing out-of-state notices and recommendations on how to overhaul the agency, Baker said.

Pollack said she has also decided to immediately create a new senior, deputy registrar position at the RMV focused on safety, and has already started recruiting for the role.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles' failure to review tens of thousands of out-of-state violation notices came to light after it was discovered that the commercial driver's license of a 23-year-old West Springfield man should have been suspended before he allegedly crashed his truck into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire last month, killing seven.

Information provided by the state of Connecticut about Volodymyr Zhukovskyy's driving history should have triggered an automatic license suspension, but went unprocessed by the RMV.

After RMV Registrar Erin Deveney resigned last week in the fallout from the New Hampshire crash, Baker and Pollack on Monday revealed that the RMV had found thousands of unreviewed notices from other states collected in 53 mail bins in a Quincy storage room.

Pollack said Friday that over the course of week staff had searched every RMV occupied office and building for additional notices. Five more boxes were found in Quincy and have since been reviewed.

Officials also found 72 "properly labeled boxes" at the RMV's archives in Concord, and could not verify that all of the violation notices dating back to 2011 had been processed. The review of the archived notices is ongoing, but Pollack said so far 168 suspension notices have been discovered resulting in 130 drivers being newly suspended.

"Their work continued and will be ongoing in the days and weeks ahead," Pollack said.

To put the violation of license suspensions in context, Pollack said that the RMV suspends about 230,000 licenses a year. In May alone, roughly 3,000 licenses were suspended for in-state operating under the influence or refusal to take a chemical breath test.

The state is also working with the National Driver Registry and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to review all 5.2 million licenses in Massachusetts, and Pollack said that testing of the check system is underway and the review will begin on July 15.

The trouble at the RMV is just the latest controversy to beset the Massachusetts Department of Transportation where the performance problems of the MBTA have been well documented, but Baker said Pollack has not lost his trust to fix the problems.

"Secretary Pollack continues to have the full confidence of this administration," Baker said.

Pollack said that of the 876 drivers who have been suspended as a result of the ongoing review she was "not aware of any at this time" who had been involved in additional tragedies when they shouldn't have been driving.

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