I've fallen into a Motor Vehicle Rabbit Hole
October 13, 2007 9:34 AM   Subscribe

When you find yourself in a life-harming situation due to a unique administrative hiccup in a government bureaucracy (and since no one's anticipated this sort of hiccup, no one's empowered to override it)....what do you do?

I'd be immensely grateful to anyone with patience to read through and advise. I'm usually crafty enough to find a solution to any problem, but I'm stumped on this one.
I've lived in New York State for years, and recently moved to Connecticut. I maintain an office address in New York where I can get mail.
I need to switch my drivers licence from New York to Connecticut, but during the move, I lost my (NY) license. I went to New York dept of motor vehicles for a temporary license, and they said they'd mail me a permanent one. Connecticut won't switch my license unless I give them a full one...they won't accept the temporary. So I awaited the permanent one for weeks. Unfortunately, it was mailed to an old address so I never received it.
I called New York dept of motor vehicles and they confirmed it had been returned to them in the mail. I asked them to send it to my current New York address, and they noticed something in my record. According to their computer, I surrendered my New York license two weeks ago and currently hold a Connecticut driver's license. I have NO idea where they got this idea, and my mind breaks (zen enlightenment!) every time I ponder it. I've never successfully submitted anything to Connecticut motor vehicle (again, they need a full license to do the switch) and Connecticut has confirmed to me that I'm nowhere in their system.
I went directly to a New York motor vehicle office to sort it out, but was told this is what the computer says, and unless I can PROVE I'm unlicensed in Connecticut, New York will not give me a license.
Frantic, nearly hysterical at this point, I returned to Connecticut motor vehicles, and begged/pleaded for them to give me a written statement attesting to my non-existence as a Connecticut driver. But they have no mechanism for proving to anyone that a given person is NOT in their system. There's no form for that! They could only print me up a driver's abstract, which shows I have no VIOLATIONS in Connecticut. That won't cut it.
So I'm between unyielding bureaucracies. NY won't license me. Connecticut won't license me. I'm essentially an unlicensed driver with no options whatsoever. No one in the system has ever anticipated this unique situation, so there's no mechanism to override it.
What would you do?
One option: apply for a fresh new Connecticut license, take a driving test, etc etc, along with the 17 year olds. Problem is it will take weeks to apply for a test appointment (must be done via mail), wait for the date, and finally pass through the bureaucracy. And I NEED to drive! Also, I suspect there will be a question on the application asking whether I've ever held a license before...and, being disinclined to lie, I worry I'd find myself straight back in this loop.
posted by jimmyjimjim to Law & Government (38 answers total)
PS--yes, I've spoken to managers in offices in both states. Flexibility is not, apparently, a qualifier for the job. In fact, the higher I go, the more suspicious people get (suspicion is, apparently, a qualifier). Issues falling outside normality smell to them like scams.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2007

This is what your elected representatives are for. They often can get the wheels of government turning.

BTW, I had a snafu a long time ago when moving from WV to OH (my fault in this case) and I was forced to take the written and driving tests over again. There wasn't any problem at all with my former status as a licensed driver...no one seemed to care that I drove myself to the driving test.
posted by mmascolino at 9:40 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

At the very least, you should start the ball rolling on applying for a fresh Connecticut license.

If they ask whether you've ever held a license before, the answer is yes. If they ask where, the answer is New York. If they ask to see it, the answer is that you can show them the temporary one, but NY won't give you a permanent one because NY thinks you have a Connecticut license, and unless Connecticut is willing to tell NY that NY is wrong, then that's all there is to it.

Put your foot down. Be calm. Be courteous. Be persistent. Do not give up.
posted by The World Famous at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2007

You need to get the NY and CT people to talk to each other. Keep calling until you get a reasonable person on each side, and say

"Look, Gladys, if I have someone from the NY side call you, can you confirm for them what you've confirmed for me over the phone? Great. Do you have a direct number I can give them?"

"Look, Marge, can I have you call Gladys in CT so you guys can sort this out over the phone?"

Bureaucracies are run by humans. Some are more reasonable than others. You need to play the reasonableness lottery, twice. Which sucks. The elected-representative route also sounds very worthwhile (at least on the CT side).
posted by adamrice at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Go one step further.. get them both on a 3 way call.
posted by TravellingDen at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

>>>The elected-representative route also sounds very
>>>worthwhile (at least on the CT side).

I'm figuring that it'd be a big exception for CT (with which I have no history) to grant me a license without being shown a full NY license, but it'd be a smaller exception for NY (where I've been licensed 25 years) to acknowledge a weird hiccup and send me the license they already made up for me and are holding onto. So I'm imagining it'd be easier to work with a NY representative than a CT one. Though, ironically, no fewer than 6 local CT politicians have rung my doorbell today (all just town selectmen and board of education, with no power to affect DMV, though it's pretty ironic nonetheless).
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:58 AM on October 13, 2007

Phone calls won't cut it. Both sides need what they NEED.

CT needs a permanent license, not a phone call.

NY needs WRITTEN PROOF I'm not a CT driver, not a phone call.

I've tried human engineering, but the type of person working for DMV is not the type to be open to informal means of proof lying outside standard working procedure.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2007

2nding calling the office of your state legislator. Go here and click on House or Senate to get the contact info. Just forget New York -- CT motor vehicles will probably back down if they get a call from a rep or senator.

You might also try writing directly to Robert Ward. Also, your local newspaper might be interested in doing an article about your dilemma.
posted by JanetLand at 10:09 AM on October 13, 2007

Well, what you're saying is that you've accepted that one side needs something that the other side is incapable of producing, and that's that, so that's a dead end.

You asked what we would do, and what I would do is start down the path of obtaining a CT license, and just keep driving according to the rules of the road in the meantime. But I don't have the appropriate fear/worry/caution gene that would preclude me from doing that.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2007

iguanapolitico, hey, just because *I* don't see a way out doesn't mean there isn't one! That's what MF is for...to brainstorm with people cleverer than I am! :)

I'll follow all advice! Monday morning I'll apply for a driving test, plus will visit fresh DMV offices in NY and in CT, plus will approach my CT state rep's office. One thing I thought of...maybe I can get NY to fire me off a driving abstract (even though I'm no longer licensed), and maybe I can get CT to accept it (if the abstract reports my "surrender" in NY and my licensing in CT, that will buoy my case to CT that this is all a hiccup). I doubt it'll work, but it's the only loose thread.

I've cancelled distant appointments early next week, and will drive REALLY slow and careful in the meantime. I'm not going to be extreme about not driving, because I can't see a jury finding me in bad faith, if it came to that. I doubt there's a law requiring me to cease driving immediately the instant some computer somewhere glitches my record. But neither would I like to test the issue....
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:22 AM on October 13, 2007

Having just been through 6 months of NY DMV hell I can sympathize. On top of the other recommendations people have given I would add that you might be better off dealing more with CT then NY, if for no other reason than CT is the smaller of the two bureaucracy's and you might have better luck getting through to someone who will actually want to use their brain and figure out the situation with you.
posted by Captain_Science at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2007

Just take a road test in CT and be done with it. It was enough of a pain in the ass to swap my NY license for a CA one when I moved years ago that it turned out to be easier and quicker to just take the tests. It's worth doing just to see the reaction from the test administrator - they apparently only expect to deal with teenage kids.
posted by foodgeek at 10:31 AM on October 13, 2007

According to the statutes (searchable here), your first time getting caught driving without a license will cost you $75-$90. Not too bad.
posted by JanetLand at 10:34 AM on October 13, 2007

Would a letter from the CT DMV, stating that you are not licensed in that state, do what you want? Could you get someone at the CT DMV to send such a letter directly to a NY DMV official -- such that they'll know it's to a real person -- and a Cc to you, so you'll know when it's been sent and when to start calling the NY DMV?

It sounds like getting such a letter would be difficult, but if you could confirm from a specific person at the NY DMV that such a thing would help, and from whom it would need to come, maybe that's what you can ask an elected official to facilitate.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 10:35 AM on October 13, 2007

How exactly are you supposed to prove to NY that you're not licensed in Conn.? Is there some offical form or document?

Go to a local Conn. TV station and explain your plight. Better yet, look around in the local papers or TV stations and see if they have reporter or segment dedicated to helping people who have been cheated or dealt with bad business or bad government. Nothing gets government moving faster than unfavorable press
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:41 AM on October 13, 2007

Thirding a recommendation to talk to your state representative. This is what they are for!
posted by konolia at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2007

Janetland, I wouldn't sweat a $75 fine, but I'm quite sure the police wouldn't simply let me drive off...unlicensed.

Amtho, I begged and pleaded, but the head of the DMV office very firmly refused to write such a note. She's a stickler for "procedure". There ARE no real people, officially, just procedures.

To those who've recommended going to media, I'm in media myself and there are swarms of folks out there angry and frustrated by maddening situations, and many of them are trying to get their message out to (and via) media. It's just not viable to rise above that chorus. Some media outlets have ombudsmen for just such purpose, but that's a very narrow funnel, and won't get me driving, like, next week.

I just found that my CT state rep has an office in my town. I'll go there Monday. I've also contacted a friend in NY state politics to solicit his advice. I HATE bugging people, but as the noose tightens, my inclination to squeal in pain grows geometrically :)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:49 AM on October 13, 2007

You may have better luck getting a driving test sooner in a neighboring town in CT, which might have a less busy DMV.
posted by coevals at 11:19 AM on October 13, 2007

I'll try it, coevals. But they'll ask if I have a license elsewhere. And I sure hope my answer doesn't bring me back to this same loop. I'm guessing the application form will not have an option of stating "I was once licensed in another state, but am not presently". And if I so much as mention NY, they're going to want the license #. And back to the looop.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 11:23 AM on October 13, 2007

You need to do to NY what they did to you. Call them up and tell them you will surrender your CT license and want a NY one as you are not moving after all and are at the address you have for mail and such. Tell NY you want the license so you can pay taxes in NY. That should get them to give it to you. Then take your NY license to CT and trade it.

As for driving without a license, if NY sent you something that said that you surrendered your NY for a CT one, show that to the policeman. If he looks it up and tells you you have no CT one, tell him your story. Ask for his advice on how to square this away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:58 AM on October 13, 2007

NY will surely ask for the CT license before reinstating me to NY (just as CT needs one from NY). And I doubt the clod at the DMV window gives a damn about my tax paying.

NY sent me nothing, unfortunately. And this story is complex enough to be difficult for even a few of the highly filtered bright people on metafilter to grok, even though I've written it all out at length and with painstaking clarity. A cop is not that intelligent, nor will he want to hear (much less focus on, much less grok) the extended story.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 12:04 PM on October 13, 2007

How exactly are you supposed to prove to NY that you're not licensed in Conn.? Is there some offical form or document?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:47 PM on October 13, 2007

Take the test in Conn. Its the only thing you can control.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:56 PM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The problem with getting a brand-new CT license (going through the test & all that) is that your insurance company (should you switch from NY to CT) may see you as a "new driver." When my wife got a new MA license, even though it *was* a transfer from AZ, the insurance company decided that she was a "new driver," and our rates were outrageous for several months until I was able to prove that she'd been driving for years. It's another thing that certainly can be sorted out, but may require much hassle. So I'd definitely pursue getting the license transferred, even if you have to camp out in your State Rep's office or picket the DMV to get it done.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2007

Have you tried:

(1) Going to a CT cop shop and having them, not the DMV, issue you a sworn statement on official letterhead that you do not hold a CT driver's license -- they should be able to verify that there is no CT license for anyone with your name, birthdate, and SSN, by trying to look you up in the system.

(2) Going before a low-level CT judge and emerging with an official judicial finding of fact that you do not hold a CT license -- presumably, NY would be required to accept this under full faith and credit.

(3) Directly denying the entry that you surrendered your license. If so, who did you surrender it to? In what location, at what date and time? Where is the license? Where is whatever receipt must be generated for a surrendered license?

And, yes, talk to your state legislators in both states.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:32 PM on October 13, 2007

Yo, driving unlicensed is not just a risk for the violation; it is a risk of being uninsured in an accident. I would not mess with it if you have assets.
posted by spitbull at 3:16 PM on October 13, 2007

I think you're leaning on a few assumptions that may not be true. Specifically regarding what happens if you're pulled over for a traffic violation.

First, the assumption that a cop wouldn't be smart enough to understand or wouldn't care enough to listen to your story. I don't have much to say about that except it's a flagrant generalization/stereotyping. And I think that by and large we mefites do understand your story, except for a couple who clearly did miss a sentence or two in your post.

Second, that a cop wouldn't let you continue to drive after stopping you and finding you without a license. A) Lots of people are given warnings or stern finger waggings after explaining their predicament to the cops. I myself have received far more warnings (written or verbal) than tickets. B) You aren't going to be instructed to actually walk home if you're found to be driving without your license. That might happen to someone whose license had been revoked, but that doesn't happen to people who have left their wallet at home (for instance). The cop, if he even gives you a ticket, will just tell you to produce the license in court. Which may still end up being a problem for you, unless by the time the court date rolls around you've gotten NY to send you your license. Anyway, I'm just pointing out potentially invalid assumptions that aren't helping you figure this out. You've got this very defeatist attitude going on. :)

But anyway, yeah, go to your state rep on Monday, and get the ball rolling on the CT test, just in case. :) Good luck! I'm sure I've been in one of these seemingly hopeless situations before but can't put my finger on what it was about ... I think it was so painful that I've blocked it out of my memory.
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:42 PM on October 13, 2007

You've described arguing with them and begging them - have you put in an official complaint, asked to speak to the branch manager, etc?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:19 PM on October 13, 2007

You'll just have to leave the country.
posted by SixteenTons at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2007

>>>> You'll just have to leave the country

sixteentons, yeah, no joke. it's almost feeling that way. It's kind of amazing how quickly such a dreadful impasse can creep up on you. I've been struggling through this story for weeks, but realized in a five second throat lump how utterly trapped I am.

ROU_Xenophobe, great idea, I'll go to the police tomorrow (they should be having a boring Sunday) and try to get them to provide an official statement on my non-status in CT. Though i'm extremely dubious of my odds of having anyone listen to my entire sordid (and quite complex) spiel.

Banky_Edwards, great point on insurance rates "resetting" if I pursue a brand new license. I could talk to my insurer about it beforehand, but that would create a record of my acknowledgement of my non-licensed status, which clears the way even more for denial of coverage in the scenario spitbull raises, where I'm in an accident and not covered. Currently, I could claim unawareness of my unlicensed status, which would give my lawyer something to play with. I have to be careful about losing that ambiguity. Good thing this thread is anonymous :)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:59 PM on October 13, 2007

Would putting your request for documentation of your unlicensed status in writing have any chance of helping here? Just a thought - maybe it could more easily be forwarded up the chain to someone who could help you, rather than chasing around with phone calls.

Sometimes when you call you end up with the noob who doesn't know how to do what you want, and it's easier for them to tell you "no" just to get rid of you and off their plate.

Apologies if I am being obvious here.

I do work for a DMV-equivalent (in Texas) and though I'm new I do have a sense that a paper trail is harder to ignore or brush off than a phone call.
posted by marble at 10:05 PM on October 13, 2007

I'm not doing any of this via phone...I'm visiting offices and speaking to head honchos. And I'm finding that head honchos in bureaucratic offices don't get to those jobs via a flair for creative problem solving or via open-minded flexible attitudes.

I could try sending letters and pray they get to someone high up to make a difference, but I'd kind of like to drive sometime next week without worrying that a single accident might drain my bank account 'cuz I'm uninsured due to my lack of license. And if I get stopped by police for any reason, the deactivation of my NY license will be easily discovered (it's in the DMV computer), and that's not something that can be excused away. So my car will be impounded. So it's a pretty immediate issue.

Anyone else?
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:20 PM on October 13, 2007

If you need written proof... WTF IS THAT WRITTEN PROOF SUPPOSED TO BE??

God, you're a much nicer person than I! I would've dragged them over the counter and shook the shit out of them... but that's probably just me :-s

But yeah when they asked for written proof what were they expecting you to bring in...? That might give you something to work with?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:33 AM on October 14, 2007

Did you keep the driver's abstract? Does it have a CT driver's "license" or "operator" number on it? What about a space for that number (i.e., a prompt/label but no value).

If there's a space for the number on the abstract, but no actual number, there's your proof.

Optional extra: see if you can get the clerk to write on the bottom, "not licensed in CT" and sign or initial it with their badge no.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 1:17 AM on October 15, 2007

Madness. Maybe try going back to the NY office, somewhere fairly quiet on a less crazy day, as these are this is where the problem was initiated. And then beg and plead for some sort of written evidence that your licence has been transfered. As much as they'll give you. Get all the info they can give you: dates, licence number, even just a status: CT.

In a perfect world, you can also con them into calling the CT office and discovering that you don't exist in their system......unlikely, but it might happen.

Anyway, then take your pile of paperwork to the CT office, and show them that the NY office thinks that you've transfered. You may, may, have more luck in CT if you've got something on paper from NY. Sometimes you just have to keep turning up until you get someone who can help.
posted by kjs4 at 5:05 AM on October 15, 2007

Just for people following along (or reading later for advice on similar problems).....

1. CT police can't give me proof either. But they do say that, if stopped, my license status is acceptible and insurance should apply.

2. it's harder to get a CT politician to help than a NY one, because of that intrinsic paradox that there's no procedure for CT to prove I'm NOT a licensed driver. NY made the mistake, and NY has the easy fix: send me the damned license

3. state assemblymen in NY have a direct route to the DMV...there are DMV staffers whose sole job is to handle their requests. So I'm going that route.

More to follow....
posted by jimmyjimjim at 7:55 AM on October 16, 2007

Ok, ny assemblyman cleared the problem. And I'm doing something VERY nice for his staff, plus contributing to his next campaign (both unsolicited, of course).
posted by jimmyjimjim at 4:34 PM on October 17, 2007

Sounds great!
posted by JanetLand at 5:42 AM on October 19, 2007

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