RMV mistakenly tells thousands of drivers their licenses are suspended

PHOTO: Paulette Renault-Caragianes displays her new drivers license at her office in Lowell, MA on March 29, 2018. PlayCraig F. Walker/Boston Globe via Getty Images
WATCH Massachusetts drivers mistakenly told their licenses would be suspended

Thousands of Massachusetts drivers received false notifications last week that their licenses had been suspended due to unpaid fees.

The letters were mailed out because of a technical glitch in a new computer system at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The letters, which stated that drivers “must immediately cease to operate all motor vehicles until your license/right to operate has been reinstated,” were sent to 9,737 customers, some of whom received multiple copies in the mail.

The RMV identified the error on April 12 and worked to notify drivers of the mistake within 24 hours by sending correction letters in the mail, posting an automated message on the Contact Center phone line, as well as a correction on the website.

A statement issued by Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesperson Jacqueline Goddard said that “once identified, the RMV immediately fixed this issue to prevent any further customers from being suspended incorrectly.”

PHOTO: Customers wait to get their drivers licenses at a counter in the Haymarket Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Boston on March 21, 2018.John Tlumacki/Boston Globe via Getty Images
Customers wait to get their drivers licenses at a counter in the Haymarket Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Boston on March 21, 2018.

Matthew Patton, a Massachusetts resident, received the suspension letter in his mailbox on Saturday. Patton told ABC News he has not had a car registered under his name in nearly four years and recalled paying for every ticket he has ever gotten, so he was confused as to what could have caused suspension.

“I had a bunch of different feelings, including stress because it said that I could owe up to $1,200 and it wasn’t clear for what,” he said. Since it was a holiday weekend, Patton waited until Tuesday to call the RMV when he finally heard the recording that explained the error.

Though retraction letters were reportedly sent out to all 9,737 drivers, Patton said he has yet to receive his in the mail and is frustrated by the way the RMV handled the error.

“It would have been nice for them to promote their mistake more so people didn’t spend the weekend thinking that their license was suspended,” he said.

Patton said he plans to visit the RMV Hearing Office on Monday to obtain a written statement saying that his license is not in fact suspended.

PHOTO: Drivers on northbound Route 128 near Lincoln, Mass., Nov. 21, 2017.Joanne Rathe/Boston Globe via Getty Images, FILE
Drivers on northbound Route 128 near Lincoln, Mass., Nov. 21, 2017.

ATLAS, the computer system that caused the error, was installed on March 26, replacing the 32-year-old system that was previously used. Goddard said that they believe the letters were sent as a result of a coding problem in the program, which has since been fixed so the issue does not reoccur.

The system change in March was part of an upgrade that allowed the RMV to start offering federally mandated IDs in compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the REAL ID Act “establishes minimum security standards for license issuance and production.” The act was implemented in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in order to increase federal security measures by enabling customers to prove U.S. citizenship or lawful presence.

According to Goddard, along with retracting unnecessary suspensions, the mistake did not prevent any legitimate suspensions from taking place.

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