Audit finds serious MVA flaws

Monitoring of drunken drivers, license security faulted by state

October 30, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration failed to monitor drivers convicted of drunken-driving offenses and often allowed them to resume driving before they were supposed to, according to a state audit that found numerous other failings in the agency.

The audit by the Department of Legislative Services also found that the MVA issued licenses to drivers who submitted Social Security numbers of dead people; that it waited an average of 115 days to suspend the registrations of vehicles found to be uninsured, suspensions that, by law, must be immediate; and that it failed to pull the driving privileges of some parents found to be late in paying child support, as state law dictates.

In addition, the audit says, the MVA waived $824,000 in fines that it should have levied on auto dealerships for late payment of registration and title fees charged to buyers of vehicles. The oversight body declared the MVA's overall performance "unsatisfactory."

Bruce A. Myers, who heads the Office of Legislative Audits, reserved special concern for the MVA's handling of its Ignition Interlock Program, which is designed to prevent drivers convicted of alcohol-related violations from starting their cars while intoxicated. In some cases, the devices, into which a driver must blow to have his breath analyzed for alcohol before the car will run, were not installed.

"MVA failed to take appropriate follow-up action for certain individuals who repeatedly violated the terms of the program," Myers wrote, "and such individuals were subsequently returned to normal driving status."

In a written response, MVA officials acknowledged that, before Aug. 1, the agency did not have a system to ensure that it was notified of all violations that required use of the ignition program. Now, with a new procedure in place, the officials wrote, the MVA's ignition interlock case manager is able to monitor each case for 30 days "to make sure a restricted driver license has been issued and an ignition interlock device installed."

MVA officials wrote that the case manager randomly selects 10 cases per week - about 5 percent of the total - and reviews them to see whether proper procedures are being followed.

"We are working to come into complete compliance with the spirit and intent" of the audit, said MVA spokesman Buel C. Young. He said the agency has implemented 16 of the recommended changes and that six more are under way.

The spokesman said officials are now monitoring judicial cases for motor vehicle violations and have requested help from Maryland courts to better enforce rulings.

Maryland legislators passed a law in 2002 that requires anyone convicted of drunken driving twice within five years to install the ignition device. In the face of a rising death toll related to drunken driving, legislators toughened the law in 2006 to enable judges to impose the use of interlocks for up to three years.

Caroline Cash, the executive director of the Chesapeake chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which includes Maryland and Delaware, said the audit "has made us aware of weaknesses of the system so that they can be addressed as soon as possible."

Ignition interlocks are "the most effective piece of technology we have," Cash said. "We want to address those issues and solve those issues immediately so that these devices can continue to save lives."

On another front, investigators found that, in the period audited - Jan. 1, 2004, to Nov. 30, 2006 - at least 178 drivers should have been suspended for child-support violations but were not.

They said the MVA often failed to follow its guidelines for requiring proper identification of license applicants. In a test of 35 licenses processed during the audit period, investigators found that complete documentation - used to establish identity and proof of residency - was not obtained in 10 cases. Auditors also noted 16 individuals "who were issued licenses even though the related Social Security numbers were associated with deceased individuals."

The review found that MVA officials "did not always sufficiently investigate instances of possible fraudulent activity by MVA employees," and it suggested that lax supervision could mean that "improper drivers' licenses could be issued without detection." It also asserted that the agency's eMVA Store, which provides services online, had "numerous security and control deficiencies."

The MVA, a unit of the Maryland Department of Transportation, has about 1,600 employees in 24 offices. In fiscal year 2006, the agency collected about $1.3 billion, mostly in vehicle excise taxes and vehicle registration fees.

In an Oct. 19 letter to Myers, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari wrote that the department "will work closely with the MVA to address the deficiencies identified in this audit through an aggressive corrective-action plan."

In the MVA's response to the audit, agency officials concurred with the investigators' findings, though in some instances only "partially," and promised reforms.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Liz Kay contributed to this article.

PROBLEM AREAS

The Department of Legislative Services found the MVA deficient in several areas and declared the agency's overall performance "unsatisfactory."

Failed to adequately monitor drivers convicted of drunken-driving offenses and often allowed them to resume driving without having installed court-ordered devices that prevent a person who has consumed alcohol from starting a vehicle.

Issued licenses to drivers who had submitted Social Security numbers of dead people.

Waited an average of 115 days to suspend registrations of vehicles that were not insured or whose owners had their licenses revoked. Such suspensions must be immediate.

Failed to pull driving privileges of parents found to be late in paying child support to former spouses. [Source: Department of Legislative Services]

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