RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The driving records of tens-of-thousands of North Carolinians are incorrect in the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles’ computer system, internal documents obtained by WBTV show.
The records - which have been caused by glitches in the agency’s decades-old computer system - have led to some residents being able to continue driving even though their license should be suspended and other residents unable to renew their license because the system incorrectly lists their license as suspended.
Multiple DMV employees alerted WBTV to the problem. Each of the employees requested their identity not be revealed for fear of being punished or fired for exposing information about the agency.
The computer problem that led to the incorrect records began when agency personnel attempted to make changes to the computer system in response to a new law that took effect in December 2015. Although the glitch that caused the incorrect records was fixed in 2017, DMV staff has never fixed the incorrect records created in the roughly two-year period.
Senior DMV staff ran a report detailing the types of problems caused by the computer glitch as recently as late July 2018, records obtained by WBTV show.
This is the latest problem at the DMV uncovered by WBTV.
Previously, our reporting has exposed a secret driver’s license office at the agency’s headquarters used to offer select employees quick appointments for a new license while residents across the state waited at DMV officers for hours; found agency staff has left jobs open across the organization for years; and found the director took action to help individuals at least four times since taking office against the advice of his staff or the order of a judge.
In late July 2018, DMV staff received a request from the Fiscal Research staff at the North Carolina General Assembly.
An email obtained by WBTV shows the request was fielded by Chuck Church, a Legislative and Operations Officers with the DMV and relayed to the agency’s division leadership.
Specifically, the inquiry sought details of any backlogs the DMV was currently experiencing, including a “detailed description of the units and/or customers affected”, “number(s) in each backlog” and a “description of issue(s) around each backlog.”
The request was met with displeasure from at least some of the agency’s senior staff, including the woman who oversaw the office that would compile the report.
“As if we were not all working on enough things with quick deadlines, please see below,” Tiffany Efird, Acting Director of DMV’s Processing Services section said in an email forwarding the request to her staff.
Staff generated a four-page spreadsheet detailing dozens of problems and, for some problems, the number of people impacted by each problem.
The spreadsheet details issues to include DMV’s inability to key in the correct penalty for an out-of-state speeding conviction; problems with data related to people who were caught driving while their license was revoked; and a different problem with the agency’s computer that was keying in wrong conviction types for certain court actions.
In all, the spreadsheet found records of 81,335 drivers were impacted by the computer errors. That number represents just the total number of incorrect records agency staff could locate; many of the problems didn’t have an estimated number of affected records.
‘It sounds pretty horrific, actually’
Although the report with the total number of affected customers was compiled in response to a request from staff at the legislature, its not clear whether the numbers were ever provided to lawmakers.
In fact, one email obtained by WBTV suggests it wasn’t.
An email sent from one DMV staffer to Efird late on the Monday the report was compiled suggests Efird asked staff to compile a report with the number of impacted driving records removed, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the request.
The email to Efird includes an attachment labeled ‘BACKLOG Report – AD Efird copy’ and a message that indicates that spreadsheet was missing information.
“As you requested…” the staff member wrote. “Should you need a copy with the ‘other info’, (sic) please let me know.”
The copy of the report sent to WBTV contains metadata showing it was originally saved as ‘BACKLOG Report - AD Efird including totals,’ which is different than the name of the file that was attached in the email to Efird that made reference to a copy of a report with ‘other info.’
We showed a copy of the four-page spreadsheet—which included a breakdown of the tens-of-thousands of driving records impacted by the computer glitch that had yet to be corrected—to North Carolina Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston), who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
Torbett—whose role as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee makes him one of two primary lawmakers to oversee the North Carolina Department of Transportation, including the DMV—indicated he had never seen the report before.
“It’s got to be alarming when you hear that,” a WBTV reporter asked Torbett of the information contained in the report.
“Yes, it is,” Torbett said. “It sounds pretty horrific, actually.”
Torbett attributed part of the problem to the DMV’s aging computer system.
“We’re looking at getting that modernized,” he said.
Later in the interview, Torbett acknowledged the problem was one that must be fixed.
“We’ve got to fix that. That’s something we’ve got to fix,” he said. “Thank you for bringing that to our attention.”
A DMV spokesman acknowledged WBTV’s request for comment late Friday afternoon before this story was published—more than a day after the station first request a comment—but did not provide a response other than to say the computer glitch was fixed in 2017.
Late Monday afternoon, nearly a day after this story was first published, a DMV spokesman sent a statement acknowledging WBTV’s reporting was accurate.
“With every update to federal or state law, an update is required to the DMV computer program to change all future records. NCDMV’s computer system, SADLS, cannot make the updates retroactive to prior records,” spokesman Steve Abbott said.
“Those updates have to be made independently, which means if one person’s record is impacted by multiple changes in the law, it must be manually changed multiple times,” Abbott continued. “Your reported number of about 81,000 backlogged records is accurate, with the cause for the buildup created by several of the issues mentioned above.”
‘They’re wrong on this one and they won’t fix it’
The tens-of-thousands of incorrect computer records has meant drivers whose licenses were supposed to come up as revoked in the database have not.
It’s also meant countless drivers have been unable to renew their licenses because the system still shows their license as revoked or suspended.
One of those people is Eric Houck, who lives in Ashe County.
Houck was convicted of DWI in 2010 and was required to have an ignition interlock device—a breathalyzer you blow into before starting your car—in his vehicle for a year before he could get his license back.
Records Houck has provided to both WBTV and the Ashe County Clerk of Court show he had the device from April 2010 through April 2011; 367 days to be exact.
But the DMV’s computers show he is a little more than two months short of meeting the requirement.
As a result, Houck has been unable to renew his license, which expired in January, even though he was given a full license eight years ago.
“They’re telling me I took it off 72 days early, which is not right and I got the paperwork to prove it,” Houck said. “It’s a programming issue with the DMV.”
Houck said a driver’s license examiner at the Ashe County DMV office tried to resolve the problem through the agency’s help desk in Raleigh to no avail.
Now, Houck is in limbo because of a computer problem that should not have happened and that he cannot fix.
“The people in Raleigh, they want to sit back behind their ego. They don’t want to admit when they’re wrong. But they’re wrong on this one and they won’t fix it,” Houck said.
Houck said he called WBTV in hopes the station could help resolve the problem.
In the email acknowledging WBTV’s request for comment, a DMV spokesman said the agency was working to resolve Houck’s problem but did not provide any details.
For his part, Houck said he thinks the problem starts with the DMV’s leadership and, specifically, Commissioner Torre Jessup.
“I think it starts at the top,” he said. “Commissioner Jessup, he needs to surround himself with people who have got some compassion and treat people not as just a number.”
This article has been updated to include a statement from the DMV in response to this story, which was sent late Monday afternoon.