BOSTON (SHNS) – The Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended the licenses of more than 800 additional drivers in its ongoing review of potential missed violations, with thousands more requiring additional examination, officials said in a status update Thursday.
More than 2,400 Massachusetts residents have now had their permission to drive revoked in the past six weeks based on out-of-state violations that the RMV, spurred into action in the wake of a fatal crash, previously failed to handle.
The RMV has been auditing drivers following that crash in New Hampshire that killed seven motorcyclists. The driver of the truck involved is from West Springfield.
Connecticut officials twice alerted Massachusetts about a drunken-driving arrest against him. 22News talked with a New Hampshire driver, who lives near the crash site.. who said the communication process between states should be better.
“The DMVs should be tied together by now,” said John Nagoe. “At least enough to know when something serious happens. It was shocking to me that he had just flipped a truck a few weeks earlier, and that nothing was really done about that situation, that he was still out driving and his CDL wasn’t put into question from that incident.”
The RMV said they are committed to making sure serious driving offenses are updated quickly.
The latest batch, as detailed in the fifth interim report RMV officials have issued since the scandal became clear, came from what officials called an “unprecedented” effort to compare records of all 5.2 million drivers across the state with a national database that tracks violations and infractions.
Through that review, the RMV identified serious violations warranting suspensions for 869 drivers, Interim Registrar Jamey Tesler wrote Thursday. Close to 2,900 others were flagged by the process but did not fully match personal identification factors, so workers continue to review those cases to determine if further suspensions are warranted.
Tesler said in his update that the RMV also expects an interim report by the end of the week from national audit firm Grant Thornton, which was tapped to conduct an independent review of how the RMV for years failed to act on warnings from other states about Massachusetts drivers who should have their licenses suspended.
RMV officials have also begun the process of notifying other states about their drivers who have been convicted or suspended in Massachusetts, another process the Registry did not do regularly for years before the current upheaval.
About 45,000 notices dating back to March 2018, when the RMV switched over to a new ATLAS computer system, have been produced and will be sent, Tesler said.
The systemic management breakdowns became clear to the public after a Massachusetts man who was arrested on OUI charges in Connecticut — something that should have triggered a suspension of his commercial license — allegedly killed seven motorcyclists in a June crash in New Hampshire.
However, testimony from several RMV employees — including former Registrar Erin Deveney, who resigned amid the scandal — indicated that there were multiple warnings about the Registry’s growing backlog of out-of-state notices but little action to remedy the situation.
In 2016, the RMV’s Driver Control Unit head Keith Constantino successfully proposed shifting responsibility for processing the notifications to the Merit Rating Board, a data-entry division. But the board never made significant progress, and after a software change in March 2018, it altogether abandoned out-of-state notices to prioritize handling Massachusetts citations.
Merit Rating Board Director Thomas Bowes told lawmakers last month that he “didn’t have the manpower for out-of-state.”
Inactive oversight board
Tesler wrote in Thursday’s report that, while the Merit Rating Board had roughly level staff levels over the past five years, it has struggled “to manage its daily tasks and work queues” because of challenges sharing data in an efficient manner with local police, courts, and other departments.
As of Thursday, the rating board had about 22,000 “work items” — a broad term that does not refer directly to individual driver cases — still needing resolution.
Moving forward, he said, the RMV and judicial leaders will meet to develop a more collaborative system so that employees can handle the workload.
Tesler also called for the Merit Rating Board’s oversight board, which consists of the registrar, commissioner of insurance and either the attorney general or a representative from the office, to revive its role after an unspecified period of inactivity.
“It does not appear that the MRB oversight Board has met in a public fashion, with the meeting posted and minutes kept, for some time,” Tesler wrote. “Recent events have highlighted the importance of MRB and of the board’s statutorily-defined role as an oversight board for the agency’s responsibility to maintain driver records.”
Tesler said he reached out to Attorney General Maura Healey and Commissioner of Insurance Gary Anderson to schedule a meeting.
Healey’s office told the News Service that they have requested several times for the board to convene. She is investigating Westfield Transport, the company that hired the driver allegedly involved in the New Hampshire crash, but declined to comment on any additional action.
Other internal reforms are underway in the wake of the scandal. The RMV will hire a deputy registrar for safety, a chief compliance officer and a director of policy, and it is working to launch an all-new team to handle out-of-state notifications.
Two supervisors on that team will be hired by Aug. 19, Tesler wrote, and four additional employees — either full-time or temporary workers — will be on board by early September.
Rep. William Straus, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation that is investigating the RMV, said in a Wednesday afternoon statement that the latest status report is “another acknowledgment that major management and operational flaws at the agency allowed serious traffic violators to hold on to their Massachusetts licenses when they should have been suspended.”
“While it is helpful to see that changes are planned, today’s Report sheds little light on how this failure within the agency occurred or what was allowed to happen,” Straus wrote.
Straus and co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore have been pushing the Baker administration to release a full swath of documents they requested to aid in their investigation. Last week, they sent a searing letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack hinting that, if their final request for full participation was not met, they may seek subpoena power.
Pollack said earlier in the week that several batches of documents have since been handed over, and Tesler’s report said the committee has been provided close to 50,000 pages of materials.
However, Straus expressed frustration that RMV documents related to “the central questions” of when and how the records-keeping breakdown occurred still have not been provided.
“The administration’s efforts to fully share documents in its possession are now clouded by indications that the administration has identified materials which it might withhold from disclosure to the Committee,” Straus wrote. “The Chairs have already made clear that cooperation is expected and required from the administration. I would encourage the Secretary to enhance her cooperation without delay.”