RMV ignored out-of-state violation notices

After discovering them unopened for a year, state suspends 546 MA licenses

OFFICIALS LAST WEEK DISCOVERED a giant backlog of paperwork sent to the Registry of Motor Vehicles about infractions committed by Massachusetts drivers in other states that had been sitting untouched for more than a year, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack announced on Monday.

Among the unread messages from other states were more than 600 notifications about intoxicated driving infractions that required the suspension of more than 500 Massachusetts driver’s licenses, Pollack said. The cache totals tens of thousands of pages, and officials are still combing through the other non-drunk-driving infractions to determine whether further action is needed.

While it is not yet clear why the notices were neglected, Pollack said responsibility for who handles those out-of-state notices had shifted in recent years, and she said they appear to have been ignored since March 2018. That was the same month that the state switched to a new computer system and started issuing driver’s licenses that comport with the federal REAL ID requirements.

“The paper documents, through a series of changes in who was responsible, are not being processed, and we discovered a group of unprocessed out-of-state notifications dating back to March of 2018. For the last five days, a team of people has been working nearly literally around-the-clock to go through those documents,” Pollack said during a press conference in the governor’s suite. “We’re still trying to understand why in March of 2018 people stopped processing the paper notifications entirely but that appears to be what happened.”

The massive failure to process notices from outside Massachusetts was discovered during a review into a similar bureaucratic blind spot connected to a fatal vehicular crash in New Hampshire late last month. A little more than a week ago, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a commercial truck driver from West Springfield, allegedly committed negligent homicide by crashing his truck into a group of motorcyclists in the White Mountains, killing seven.

Questions soon arose about why Zhukovskyy was still licensed to drive in Massachusetts even though he was busted on May 11 for intoxicated driving in Connecticut. Amid the burgeoning controversy, Erin Deveney, who had been the registrar of motor vehicles throughout Baker’s tenure, resigned last Tuesday, and Jamey Tesler took over as acting registrar.

“There are no words to express the heartbreak and devastation that everyone is feeling during this terrible time,” Baker said. “In this case the RMV failed to act on critically important information that had been previously communicated by another state. This failure is completely unacceptable to me, to the residents of the Commonwealth who expect the RMV to do its job.”

While Massachusetts officials had initially cast some blame on their counterparts in Connecticut, Baker on Monday confirmed that officials there had conveyed the information appropriately.

After receiving information about Zhukovskyy from Connecticut, the Bay State’s automated review system “kicked it out” for manual review but it wasn’t processed quickly enough, Pollack said.

“The registry did not act expeditiously on information provided by Connecticut that should have triggered the termination of that individual’s commercial driver’s license,” Pollack said.

Registry officials looked through more than 300 notices that were in a backlog of notifications requiring review, and determined the notice about Zhukovskyy was the only one requiring a suspension of a commercial driver’s license, Pollack said. Connecticut had also sent a notice about Zhukovsky through FedEx and as part of the inquiry into what went wrong there, registry officials discovered the stockpile of other out-of-state issues concerning all types of drivers – not just commercial truck drivers. All that mail was sitting in a room in Quincy, Pollack said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack attended a July 1 press conference about procedural failures discovered at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

“There are whole rooms at the Quincy headquarters that are full of documents. We were not aware until last week that some of those documents were unprocessed out-of-state notifications,” Pollack said.

State officials have hired an auditor to look into what happened, and part of the auditor’s job will be to create a timeline to track the shifting responsibility.

“We know at one point in time whose job it was. We know at one point in time it was shifted to the Merit Rating Board. But we are still really trying to understand who made which decisions about where it moved and whose responsibility it was,” Pollack said. Rather than processing the information sent their way, staff at the rating board merely sorted the notifications based on month of arrival, and put them in mail bins, according to a preliminary review, which specified 546 individuals’ licenses were suspended based on the discovered documents.

The registry now has someone assigned to handle the paper so that the out-of-state notifications are processed the day they arrive or the next business day. Registry and MassDOT officials will brief the US Department of Transportation’s inspector general and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration about the issue, Baker said.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka were briefed on the situation during their regular Monday meeting with the governor and expect another update next week, Spilka said.

“They are doing a very thorough review of the situation, and it sounds as if that thorough review is definitely warranted in these circumstances,” Spilka said.

Both legislative leaders are waiting to see whether legislative action would be helpful, they said.

“I think we’re anxiously awaiting to see exactly where there may have been a failure in the system,” DeLeo said.  “I don’t think we have enough information at our disposal in terms of whether this is a situation that would require further legislative review.”

Nationwide, roadways deaths have totaled 40,000 people annually, according to the National Safety Council. In Massachusetts there are 5.2 million licensed drivers, and in May 36,000 license suspension actions were taken, including 3,000 related to chemical tests used to determine whether someone is suspected of intoxicated driving, according to Pollack.

The failures at the RMV coincide with major problems on the MBTA’s Red Line following a June 11 derailment, and Baker told reporters, “We have a lot of work to do to earn back” faith in the state’s transportation system.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

During the press conference, a reporter asked Pollack whether she would remain in her position.

“The governor has asked me to fix this, and I’m going to fix it,” Pollack responded.