California

More errors at the DMV: Thousands of customers can’t get licenses after paying early

California DMV customers angry over rising wait times

Customers across California are experiencing rising wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles. People at the Sacramento South field office on July 26, 2018 were particularly frustrated.
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Customers across California are experiencing rising wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles. People at the Sacramento South field office on July 26, 2018 were particularly frustrated.

Bogged down by long customer wait times, California’s Department of Motor last fall tried to ease the pressure in its offices by sending license renewal notices much earlier than usual.

It backfired.

The DMV sent renewal notices to Californians 120 to 150 days before their licenses were scheduled to expire. But the department’s technology could only accept payments 115 days before a license’s expiration.

As a result, thousands of customers across the state who immediately paid online or by mail for their renewals are now in limbo, waiting for a card that may never arrive in the mail. Some have not gotten their money back.

The DMV in a written statement said it has fixed the error, which affected “a small percentage of customers” who received renewal notices between November and January. It added that the department is “working to contact the customers impacted and issue their driver license by mail as soon as possible.”

The department has launched an internal review to determine how many customers have been affected. Findings could emerge as early as next week, according to the DMV. A spokesman said the mistakes may have affected tens of thousands of customers.

When customers went to pay for their renewals online or by mail, their payments appeared to have been processed. But on the back-end of the website, the DMV didn’t have a record of the transaction.

Waves of customers began complaining to the DMV when they noticed they did not receive cards in the mail, according to a spokesman, a DMV customer and a call center employee.

The DMV said the driver license delay caused by renewing too early is isolated to November through January, though it began sending earlier notices in September. The earliest expiration date by someone affected would be Feb. 25, according to the department.

But some customers say they were forced to drive with expired licenses because their cards didn’t arrive in the mail on time. They believe they were affected by the DMV sending renewals too soon.

Steve Fulton of Redondo Beach said he and his twin brother, Jeff, received their notices in the mail in October when their licenses were set to expire on Jan. 24. Jeff Fulton paid online right away, while Steve Fulton waited until mid-November. Neither has received their cards.

Furious with the situation after the license expired, Jeff Fulton drove to the Hawthorne DMV field office, where he was forced to pay again and accused of bringing a false receipt.

“When he drove to Hawthorne and they accused him of never having paid, he just paid again and got a slip of paper called an ‘interim driver’s license’ that says one day you will get a license in the mail,” Steve Fulton said.

Steve Fulton went to the Torrance office after driving with an expired license for eight days. Unlike his brother, he was given his temporary card free of charge.

The brothers’ official licenses aren’t expected to arrive for another month.

The DMV said it issued more than 2.3 million license cards from November 2018 to January 2019. Though the DMV said no customer should have to pay twice, Steve Fulton remains upset about what happened to him and his brother.

He tweeted, called and emailed the department several times until finally deciding to come into an office without an appointment. He said the call centers were bombarded with similar complaints.

“Every time I called the DMV, they said, ‘This is the only thing we’re getting called about. This is happening all the time.’”

On Monday, the DMV directed call center employees to no longer request proof of payment when customers complain that they didn’t get their license renewals processed, according to a document obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, called the DMV’s mistake “yet another embarrassment” and an “example of what a failed state bureaucracy looks like.”

“The impact of the DMV’s continued technology and management failures don’t surprise me anymore,” Patterson said. “Thousands of people were touched by this failure. These are paying customers, and they’re not being treated like it. We must overhaul this department starting at the top if we ever expect to see anything change.”

The DMV is currently being audited by the Department of Finance. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered an additional review of the DMV through the creation of a strike team.

A separate audit into the state’s implementation of the Motor Voter program, which automatically registers Californians to vote at the DMV, is under consideration in the Legislature. The request from Patterson could be heard as early as March 6.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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