Miami-Dade County

Glitch sends wrong driver’s license info to thousands of Floridians

Miami police officer Luis Ortiz looks at a driver’s license he requested from a motorist, Jan. 29, 2015. Drivers who recently changed their address online and requested an updated license from the state may be receiving a new license but with their old address because of a computer problem.
Miami police officer Luis Ortiz looks at a driver’s license he requested from a motorist, Jan. 29, 2015. Drivers who recently changed their address online and requested an updated license from the state may be receiving a new license but with their old address because of a computer problem. AP

Thousands of motorists paid $27 to the state of Florida to update the address on their driver’s licenses, only to be sent replacement licenses with the old address.

The problem happened to 8,576 people over five days from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1. Some may not yet be aware because their new licenses haven’t arrived.

“I went online to add my new address,” said Nicole Johnsen of Port Richey, whose license arrived at her new address days later. “But when I looked at it, it still had the old address on it.”

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles blames a glitch in its 30-year-old computer system. The agency acknowledged the problem after the Herald/Times asked questions about it and issued a public apology to all affected drivers.

The state will mail corrected licenses for free.

“This is what brings a loss of confidence,” said Brevard County Tax Collector Lisa Cullen. “I don’t like it. It’s not acceptable.”

Johnsen, 32, who works for an ambulance billing company, told Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano about the problem and said he quickly fixed it. But she’s still waiting for the state to send her the correct license.

“What a mess,” Fasano said. “If they had just been transparent about it and notified the tax collectors immediately, we would have been prepared. The biggest mistake they made was trying to keep it secret.”

Cullen said she asked the state to tell her how many people in Brevard County were affected, but the state did not provide the information Friday.

“I want to prepare people and I don’t know,” said Cullen, president of a statewide association of tax collectors.

The highway safety agency said it began making legislatively mandated updates to its computer system on Sept. 27 which led to a “synchronization delay” between the driver’s license system and the vehicle registration system, which are on two different databases. The mailing address and driver’s license address are listed as separate fields in the computer system.

“That delay meant that we were printing the licenses and ID cards faster than they were being updated in the system,” said agency spokeswoman Alexis Bakofsky.

The problem affected 1,208 people in Miami-Dade and 461 in Pinellas. Totals for other counties were not available.

The highway safety agency, under the direction of Gov. Rick Scott and three elected Cabinet members, is asking the Legislature for $7.4 million next year in the first phase of a so-called motorist modernization project. That includes $700,000 for synchronization hardware.

“This modernization will ensure that things like this don’t happen,” Bakofsky said.

Some Florida drivers may not be aware of an often-overlooked state law that requires people to update the address on their license within 10 calendar days after they move or risk facing a $30 fine.

Residents moving to Florida from another state have 30 days to apply for their initial Florida license.

Anybody who gets stopped for speeding can recall the first question the officer asks: whether the address on the driver’s license is their current address.

On Thursday, the agency sent a notice to county tax collectors across the state, who issue most licenses, saying affected drivers would be mailed the correct licenses by the close of business Friday.

“The customer should destroy the outdated license,” the notice said. “A letter with instructions will be sent to the customer along with the corrected license.”

The state has declined to identify affected drivers by name, and claims the information is confidential under federal law.

Fasano said the mixup is a vivid example of why the state should never centralize the distribution of driver’s licenses. The state floated the idea a few weeks ago but dropped it in the face of resounding opposition from tax collectors.

“Centralization gives me the chills,” Fasano said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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