Gaps in Ga. driver records put safety, money at risk, audit says

Georgia is at risk of losing $30 million in federal highway funds, and erroneous or incomplete information in its driver records could jeopardize public safety, a new state audit shows.

Among the problems is that dozens of courts either don’t report or are slow to report traffic, drug and stolen vehicle convictions to the Department of Driver Services. As a result, dangerous drivers may be able to stay on the roads.

Georgia also allows license suspensions for DUI offenses to be wiped off of driver records, if the charge does not result in a conviction. That is contrary to federal law, which considers deleting such license suspensions as “masking.” A federal law enacted this past summer requires this issue to be resolved by 2015, auditors reported this week.

“At current funding levels, approximately $30 million could be at risk” because of that, the audit says.

Among the audit’s other findings:

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• Officials from 28 courts told state auditors they had reportable convictions they had not forwarded to DDS. Many indicated they were unaware of the reporting requirements.

• State law requires courts to report offenses within 10 days of the conviction. About 300,000 of the million convictions processed last year did not meet this requirement. As a result, state driver records are not up-to-date with convictions, points and license suspensions.

• When DDS detects errors in conviction records, it returns them to the courts for corrections. Last year, state officials identified 58,650 such records needing corrections. As of August of this year, 53,449 had not been resolved and resubmitted to the state.

• About 9,500 “super speeder” fine notices were returned as undeliverable between 2010 and 2011. Of those motorists, about 5,700 had not paid their fines as of April, causing more than $1.1 million in fines to go uncollected.

• Driver records also are marred by some inaccurate addresses, missing and inaccurate case numbers for convictions and missing blood-alcohol levels, used to determine the length of license suspension for first-time DUI offenders under age 21. Omissions of critical driving violations from states where Georgia drivers previously lived also hamper identification of problem drivers, the report says.

In its response, the department said it has worked the past five years to improve the validity, accuracy and completeness of driving records. For example, this summer it began requiring residents to provide proof of their mailing address, and it received a grant for a judicial liaison who worked with the courts on conviction reporting.

The department told the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts that the cost of implementing one recommendation – including critical violations in prior states on driver histories – would “outweigh the expected benefits.”

“DDS noted that there is currently no mechanism for the 50 states to exchange a non-commercial driver’s history among the state jurisdictions, so that DDS could import a new Georgia resident’s driving record from the resident’s prior state,” the report said.

Auditors also were concerned DDS does not have policies about which of its employees can change or delete information on driver records. “Without sufficient access and regular monitoring, the database is vulnerable to unauthorized changes, such as personnel inactivating a conviction or license suspension from the driver records,” the audit said. Other states conduct periodic reviews of employee activities to investigate potential fraud, the report said.

DDS Commissioner Rob Mikell issued a statement Thursday, saying his agency will “formalize our current policy which limits employee access to driving record information.”

“We look forward to studying the additional recommendations in-depth as we strive to better serve the citizens of Georgia,” he said.

A spokesman for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said his office is reviewing the audit and “will ask the appropriate legislative committee to review it as well in order to determine the necessary legislative action to address these findings when the General Assembly convenes in 2013.”

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office referred questions to Mikell. An aide to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and an official with the Georgia Municipal Court Clerks Council did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Superior courts handle serious traffic offenses and drug crimes. Mike Holiman, executive director of the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia, said superior courts routinely report information to the Georgia Crime Information Center and state Corrections Department.

“I believe our members do report correctly,” Holiman said.

Teresa Hildebrand, regional director for AAA Georgia, said AAA encourages Georgia officials to “act on this audit and implement improvements suggested by the report.”

“Driving records tell a story and help prosecutors, judges, DMV, insurers and others understand what kind of driver someone is and what risk/danger they present to themselves and others,” she said in an email. “Accurate, comprehensive systems are vital to be able to do this.”

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