Note from Dan: Catherine Taylor moved from New York to Blacksburg in 2010. I’ve been looking into this and there’s more to the story that I’ll bring you next week. Make sure you read all the way to the end. And if something like this has happened to you, please drop me an e-mail and tell me that story.
By Catherine Taylor
Last night [Oct. 29] I was stopped on South Main Street in Blacksburg for a traffic violation. The officer gave me a short speech and no ticket, but when he checked my license it came back as listed “invalid” on the National Driving Register. Flummoxed, I asked what that meant. He said it was usually reserved for elderly people who could no longer operate a car for medical reasons.
I am 59 and healthy. My driving record, while not flawless, is clean. Having an “invalid” rating, however, means I cannot legally drive. “I’ve never run across this before,” he said, then told me to go straight home and go to the DMV first thing in the morning and get it “figured out.”
“Maybe it’s a clerical error,” he said. I would also have to go to traffic court and explain it there in order for it to be fully removed from my record.
This morning a helpful clerk at the Christiansburg DMV pulled my records up on her computer and told me the state of New York had me listed as having a “suspended license.” I moved here from Ithaca in 2010, but my record in New York was clean. The clerk told me I would need to call the New York DMV and get a “clearance letter” before she could reinstate my Virginia license.
I made the call to the New York DMV on my cell immediately from the local DVM parking lot. After listening to a half-hour of bad Muzak, an articulate clerk answered, listened to my tale, looked me up, and announced that while my driving record in New York was free and clear I had been flagged by … Homeland Security!
He said it’s a program in which people are randomly listed on the National Driving Register as having invalid licenses. “Most people don’t discover it until they go to renew their license,” he told me. To get my license reinstated I had to request something he called a “License Abstract.” He explained that he would transfer me to another clerk, who would FAX the document to the Virginia DMV– for a fee. After another 10 minutes of Muzak, a perky-sounding woman pulled up my records and asked me a series of questions.
What was my birth date? What was my Virginia street number? What were the last four digits of my Social Security number? Not one thing about my car or my auto insurance or my driving record. It was purely a “who are you and where are you?’ inquiry. After I answered all the questions she asked if I wanted to receive the document clearing me as a FAX or as a letter sent to my home (she already had my full address). A letter only was $15.00; the letter and a FAX would be $20.00. I had her FAX the document directly to the Christiansburg DMV and send a letter to me, which I will need when I go to traffic court.
I went back inside my local DMV to the clerk who had helped me and explained what I’d been told. I may be wrong but as soon as I said “Homeland Security” she reacted as if she had heard it before.
“It’s just wrong,” she said, shaking her head. “They are turning people into illegal drivers!” She promised to phone me once the FAX arrived “if there was any problem.” This got me wondering whether things were in fact taken care of, or if there is more to come.
All this happened Wednesday morning. A work colleague suggested it was something you would want to check into. I hope you will. It was unnerving and a hassle, but I think it is now sorted out (good gracious, let’s hope so), though I missed a full morning of work, and will miss work again when I go to court. But what about people who can’t get time off from work? Or for whom missing work means losing a job?
What about those for whom $15.00 or $20.00 dollars is a burden? And the fact that I am a law-abiding citizen who does not deserve to be randomly tracked and “located” by the government?
By way of icing on this unwanted cake, I am the senior pastor of Blacksburg Presbyterian Church! Do let me know if I can provide any further information.