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MVA pledges renewed training for workers releasing driving records

September 01, 2000

MVA pledges renewed training for workers releasing driving records



By JIM LEE / Editor, Carroll County Times.


Auditors attempting to get copies of their state senator's driving record from the Motor Vehicle Administration were successful in eight instances and were turned away in nine.

At the MVA office in Easton, one auditor received the document in eight minutes with no problem while another auditor going to the same office was turned away after being told it was not a public record.

"That is inexcusable," said Tom Marquardt, chairman of the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association's Freedom of Information subcommitee and managing editor of the Capital in Annapolis. "The inconsistency is too broad."

MVA spokesman Richard Scher agreed.

"Our clerks have been trained in issuing driver's records and they know the laws permit the release of a person's driving record," he said. "The fact that some clerks might have been confused is disheartening."

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Prior to 1997 all information held by the MVA could be released to the public. That changed in September, 1997, when the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act went into effect and states adopted the federal standard.

The federal DPPA was a direct legislative response to the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Schaeffer was stalked and killed by a man who found her name and address through her drivers record.

Maryland's law gave people the option of having the personal information in their records closed, but new legislation passed in 1999 which went into effect July 1, 2000, closes everyone's information except in cases where they indicate they want it open.

You can still get a person's driving record if you know his name and either the date of birth or his driver's license number.

As is the case with the federal law, Maryland's legislation includes exemptions for such businesses as law enforcement, tow truck operators, insurance companies, private detectives and others.

According to court records, Schaeffer's killer used a private detective to find out her personal information. That scenario is still possible under the new restrictions.

Maryland MVA workers were trained in the new law in 1997, and received updated training last fall after the new legislation passed, Scher said.

"I'm disappointed that we did not fare better compared to other agencies in regard to your audit," Scher said. "But at the same time it clearly will serve as a reminder to our clerks and front line employees that they need to be aware of the changes in the privacy laws and what they are and are not allowed to provide."

He said a memo will be going out to all MVA offices.

"We will be alerting all of our employees statewide, especially targeting the ones who are the front line employees who deal with the customers directly and deal with customer records," he said.

Still, some things won't change. Scher said the MVA will continue to charge $5 for copies of the records or $15 for certified copies, and they will still ask for identification and people requesting driver's records will have to fill out a form.

"This is in Maryland state law that it is allowed by the MVA and the Department of Transportation," he said. "We need to have that on file in case we need to use it against that person."

He referenced the Schaeffer case.

"If the reason the person is using the record is illegal we're not expecting them to put that as the reason, someone stalking someone, for example," he said. "But we will have a record of the request."

Jim Lee is editor of the Carroll County Times and a member of the MDDC Freedom of Information subcommittee.

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