Countless Hoosiers witnessed improvements in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles over the past several years, with service faster and mistakes fewer.
But two legal cases filed this summer threaten to again tarnish the BMVs reputation – and signal big problems could be ahead for people caught in the BMVs bureaucratic maze.
In the 1990s and into the 21st century, a number of Hoosiers were arrested for driving while suspended never knowing their license was suspended.
Many lost licenses for failing to provide proof of insurance after an accident – even when they werent at fault, a requirement many Hoosier motorists were unaware of.
But it got better. From 2006 to 2008, the BMV was directed by Ron Stiver, who truly reformed and improved the agency. Technology improved, and bad surprises plummeted.
The two cases filed this summer show that the bad surprises may be returning, at least for drivers whose records are less than stellar.
In one case, an Indianapolis judge ordered the BMV to return a drivers license to a Clay County woman after the bureau had suspended it. The BMV had apparently begun spot-checking Hoosiers listed on the Previously Uninsured Motorist Registry to make sure they had insurance. The BMV suspended the license of the woman because she lacked insurance on March 5, 2012.
The woman had a good defense. She didnt have a useable, registered vehicle then. She did buy insurance before she started driving again.
Under the BMVs position, the judge wrote, anyone on the list of previously uninsured motorists must have insurance or other financial responsibility, even if they do not own a vehicle or have one registered, and even if they do not drive.
Evidence was introduced that even though the woman had informed the BMV of a new address, warnings about her suspensions were mailed to the wrong place. And, the judge noted, the BMV did not follow proper procedure in writing rules to enforce the law regarding the registry.
Whether the driver in the second case was truly wronged is less clear, but it does indicate more bureaucratic snafus.
In that case, a Bloomington womans license was suspended after the BMV in 2012 began reviewing the records of drivers who should have been declared habitual traffic offender and handed license suspensions. In that case, the BMV ordered a 10-year license suspension – from 2012 to 2022.
Her license should have been suspended in 2004 – but then, she didnt have a license to suspend.
The woman did have a record of 17 traffic convictions and 18 license suspensions, and the judge denied an injunction to restore her license.
But she does have a compelling argument: No one from the BMV told her she shouldnt get a license. Indeed, the BMV granted her a license in 2008.
Those snafus could have even more important ramifications, considering that a valid drivers license is the most common form of ID Hoosiers need to vote. If the BMV errs on licenses, could eligible voters be denied the right to cast ballots?
With luck, those were isolated incidents. But after the judges ruling in the first case, Ken Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union, said This decision is important for the thousands of people who are being unfairly deprived of their licenses by the application of a law for which no rules have even been issued.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the BMV.