Hell has its limits

November 05, 2007

The closest place to hell on earth is your local motor vehicle office - that's one of the funnier running gags in the TV comedy Reaper. But as a recent audit of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration demonstrates, the reality is far worse. Most troubling, it appears the agency has not kept adequate track of drunken drivers ordered to use ignition interlock systems, and that has probably put many such high-risk motorists back on the road.

Are we surprised that the MVA is overwhelmed and understaffed? Not really. But it does underscore the utter ridiculousness of Washington's expectation that the MVA should be on the front line of the nation's anti-terrorism efforts.

The Bush administration doesn't want the MVA to merely go about its job making sure drivers are qualified and people are who they say they are. The Real ID program raises the humble driver's license to a national ID, and the same clerks who are having so much trouble keeping records straight (keeping track of insurance status and vehicle registration suspensions earned low marks in the audit) may soon have to become immigration experts.

That's not to excuse the MVA - and it should be noted that officials say they're in the process of making improvements to address many of the audit's criticisms. But let's be realistic: Motor vehicle offices are still going to be motor vehicle offices. Expecting the most damned of bureaucracies to suddenly be transformed (without federal funding, by the way) into a heavenly enterprise is as laughable a premise as any TV sitcom.

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