On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

U.S. driver's license network goes down, slowing DMV offices across the nation

Share story

DMV offices around the U.S. were slowed down for hours on Monday, due to a network outage in a key database. Here, people wait at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles office in  Brooklyn last month.
DMV offices around the U.S. were slowed down for hours on Monday, due to a network outage in a key database. Here, people wait at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles office in Brooklyn last month.
Angela Weiss | AFP via Getty Images

Drivers who went to DMV offices Monday morning were likely hoping for a quick end to what can be a painfully slow process — but in offices around the U.S., that process ground to a halt for roughly four hours, due to a widespread network problem.

"The network that connects motor vehicle agencies across the United States to each other and to various verification services" began experiencing an outage at 10 a.m. ET, says Claire Jeffrey, communications manager for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The issue wasn't resolved until 2 p.m., Jeffrey says. In the meantime, many driver's license and vehicle registration offices were unable to use a key database search tool that lets them verify information.

The Problem Driver Pointer System is operated by the AAMVA, an organization that includes DMV offices from nearly 70 states, provinces and territories in the U.S. and Canada. Every U.S. state uses the system to verify a driver's eligibility for a license and for other critical functions.

Word about the outage was slow to emerge. One of the earliest official notices came just before noon, when the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security published an alert on its website.

"We apologize for the inconvenience," the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles said in a tweet around 1:30 p.m., explaining that the national outage was still causing problems, even as some reports emerged that the issue was fixed.

The issues left frustrated motorists wondering when they'd be able to conclude their business — and whether they might be forced to go through another full visit to the DMV.

"I've been waiting for 5 hours for a renewal, do I have to start this process all over again???" one Twitter user said in reply to New York state's DMV. The agency did not reply.

The last time the network went down this completely was in May 2018, according to the AAMVA.

As for what brought the system down Monday, Jeffrey says, "We are in the process of conducting a root cause analysis to determine what created the outage."

The outage left DMV offices around the country helpless to issue many new documents and credentials.

"The Problem Driver Pointer System (PDPS) is down nationwide and as a result we are unable to process many license transactions," the Vermont Division of Motor Vehicles announced Monday.

The PDPS "contains information on individuals whose privilege to operate a motor vehicle has been revoked, suspended, canceled or denied or who have been convicted of serious traffic-related offenses," according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

In addition to those services, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles said the network outage left it unable to verify U.S. passports.

Every U.S. state and the District of Columbia pays a share of the cost to search the PDPS system, based on the size of its population.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.