Tales Of The (Red) Tape

Articles have been written in our newspaper about the new requirements that went into effect this year for West Virginia driver’s licenses, but we continue to hear horror stories about the difficulties that some motorists have encountered in trying to renew their licenses.

West Virginians are required to produce more forms of identification when renewing their driver’s licenses. The requirements are particularly troublesome, it seems, for women who have married and changed their names and now have to provide signed, sealed proof of their names. (We can only imagine the extra paperwork required if they have married, divorced and changed their names multiple times.)

Let me share with you, dear readers, the stories of two Wheeling women’s recent journeys through the inner workings of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The first woman, a longtime West Virginia resident who has been married for many years, gathered up her paperwork, took time off from work and headed to the DMV. Among the identifying papers that she presented was her marriage license. Presenting her marriage certificate had never been a problem with any legal requirements in the past, but she was told at the DMV that the certificate was unacceptable because it did not bear a state seal from the distant state in which she and her husband were married years ago.

She was given a number to contact officials in that state, but it proved to be an incorrect number. After several attempts to get the right number, she succeeded only after a relative in that state was able to determine a phone number for the appropriate agency. The West Virginia resident was required to fill out a form and submit payment to the distant state in order to secure a copy of the marriage certificate bearing the state seal.

In the meantine, the woman’s West Virginia driver’s license expired and she had to pay for a temporary provisional license. When the new certificate finally arrived, she had to make yet another trip to the DMV office to purchase a new license. Adding to the motorist’s frustration, because she works in another state, at least an hour’s drive from Wheeling, she had to take extra time off from her job in order to renew her driver’s license.

That woman’s frustration pales in comparison to the experience of another Wheeling woman who happens to be 90 years old. This lady has been driving safely and responsibly for 72 years, yet never did she experience the difficulty that she had this year in renewing her driver’s license. Let’s be clear: the driver’s competency and ability to drive were NEVER in question; her license renewal nightmare stemmed from innocent errors on her 90-year-old birth certificate.

Never having encountered a problem with establishing her identity, the woman presented her birth certificate as part of her identifying documents to the DMV. The birth certificate was an official West Virginia document bearing the state seal. However, one letter had been omitted inadvertently from her maiden name when the certificate was typed in 1922.

After being told that the document was unacceptable because of the missing letter in the listing of her maiden name, the woman showed another birth record, also bearing the state seal. However, on this particular 1922 document, her first name was listed on one line and her maiden surname (spelled correctly) was listed on the line below. The DMV representative told the woman that this document also was unacceptable because “both names have to be on the same line.”

Many trips to the DMV and the courthouse ensued as the frustrated motorist tried to resolve the issue before her license expired. At one point, a government employee – who, to be overly charitable, we’ll say must have been having a “brain cramp” day – suggested that the woman ask her father to sign a paper explaining the name discrepancy. The 90-year-old woman replied politely that her father died, at age 91, in the 1970s.

Ultimately, the woman was advised to send all of the birth records to officials in Charleston. There, state workers made a photocopy of her original certificate, errors and all, and affixed a state seal to the copy. Fortunately, the new photocopy was deemed appropriate and the woman’s license was renewed.

The state’s new requirements are part of a federal effort to safeguard the security of driver’s licenses. The sad irony is that terrorists probably will find ways to dodge the system and crooks will still develop schemes to steal people’s identities.

Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at: Comins@news-register.net