Dozens of Maryland drivers who had racked up enough penalty points to lose their licenses apparently got some extra time behind the wheel thanks to a software glitch at the Motor Vehicle Administration, according to state auditors.
The audit, made public last week, found that over a six month period ending in May 2009, MVA officials were not aware that at least 139 drivers had accumulated 12 points — enough to have a license revoked — but were still being allowed to drive.
The findings were the result of a review of 5,515 cases by the Office of Legislative Audits, as part of a review that also listed 12 other problems.
Of 20 cases that auditors examined in more detail involving people with 12 points, four licenses had actually been revoked, though those actions didn't show up in computer records. The MVA issues points, which also affect motorists' insurance rates, when drivers are found at fault in an accident or moving violation.
MVA officials were not aware of the problem until informed by auditors over a year ago, but agency administrator John T. Kuo said that all the missed cases were immediately examined and revocation letters sent to the drivers. A software glitch in early 2008 caused the problem, officials said.
"We looked at this. None [of the drivers] were involved in any crashes." he said. The programming problem was also fixed. Kuo said that with 4 million Maryland drivers, "the monitoring process is largely automated."
Legislative auditor Bruce A. Myers said the response has been good, but the MVA should have gone further.
"They fixed it from happening in the future, but they need to go back," he said, and called for the MVA to look over a greater span of time before December 2008.
Kuo said he agrees, and is doing exactly that. "We agreed we'd look beyond [the six month audit period] to make sure no others fell through the cracks," he said. In fiscal 2009, 232,039 licenses were suspended by the MVA and 8,531 people had their licenses revoked. A legislative hearing on the audit results is scheduled in Annapolis Nov. 9.
Another problem involved the state's Ignition Interlock program, which allows drivers who are being monitored for drunken driving to use their vehicles only after blowing into a device on the ignition to prove that they are not intoxicated. Those who fail the breath test four times, fail the program and have their licenses suspended.
But the audit found that MVA had not reviewed rare cases where workers manually changed the result of the tests. In one case, one driver was allowed to "graduate" from the program despite five violations. In another, someone with four violations had one removed, allowing the driver to stay behind the wheel without any written justification. The program had 7,124 people enrolled during fiscal year 2009.
Caroline Cash, executive director of the Maryland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, expressed support for Kuo and his agency, though the group wants ignition interlocks made mandatory in more instances.
"We are convinced that the MVA is committed to taking drunk driving off the road," Cash said. "The best way to do that is with the [devices]. Currently a judge can order use of the device, or a motorist can ask for one, but MADD wants it made mandatory for anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated."
Other audit findings mainly involved a lack of sufficient controls over spending and inventory, but did not turn up serious abuses or corruption. For example, the names and credit card information of some drivers were listed on publicly accessible computer programs without encryption, and checks received by the agency were occasionally left out in an unlocked room without any employees present.
Methods of accounting for registration stickers and license plates were sometimes vulnerable to abuses, auditors said, and vendors who sold equipment to the MVA were sometimes paid before delivery was verified.
Kuo's agency agreed with all 13 problems the auditors turned up and has been working to correct them; the agency has resolved 23 of 25 problems identified in a 2007 audit. The MVA has 24 offices, 1,600 employees and took in $1.2 billion in revenue in fiscal 2009, the report said.
An agency response says checks, for instance, are now kept in a locked box and that a new, secure door was installed on the room where they are stored.
New procedures for tracking registration stickers issued for car dealers were put in place as well, officials said.