State DMV Denies Streetsblog’s Request to Know Number of Drivers with License Suspensions

We wonder what happened to the driver of this car. But state DMV doesn't seem to care.
We wonder what happened to the driver of this car. But state DMV doesn't seem to care.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles won’t tell us — or, worse, doesn’t know — how many driver’s licenses it revokes or suspends every year.

It should be an easy answer — but for nearly two years, the agency in charge of giving out (and suspending) driving privileges has refused to tell Streetsblog the answer to that most simple of questions: “How many driver’s licenses did the DMV revoke or suspend” in the previous calendar year.

The latest rejection came via US Mail earlier this month.

“Your request is denied,” said the Feb. 2 letter from the DMV FOIL and Subpoena Unit.

The saga began in May, 2019, when Streetsblog asked the DMV press shop, ““How many New York State-licensed drivers have three or more moving violations in any 12-month period?” At the time, such information was vital because a pending bill by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes would suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of three moving violations in a 12-month period. (The bill stalled, but has been resubmitted.)

In August, 2019, the DMV denied our request for that information, saying that it does not “maintain the records requested in a manner that permits practical retrieval.” In other words, the DMV couldn’t tell us many drivers had been nabbed on camera three or more times for speeding or for the other violations on Gounardes’s list. (A Streetsblog calculation of just the cars nabbed in New York City revealed why it’s so important to know that number: It’s in the hundreds of thousands of cars. And that was back when there were only 140 speed camera systems in the city — there are now more than 700.)

The denial of that request led to our latest request, which we filed on Aug. 6, 2019 — and this time, we tried to keep it brief, “How many licenses did the NYS DMV suspend or revoke last year?” We figured this would be a simple question, given that the DMV’s own website says, “If you get 11 points in an 18-month period, your driver license may be suspended.”

We asked the same question to the DMV press shop repeatedly over the next five months, when, in January, 2020, we were finally told to make the request for basic information to the Freedom of Information office. We did so promptly.

This week, more than a year later, our request for this basic piece of information was denied. And remember, our question was basic: “How many driver’s licenses did the DMV revoke or suspend in total in 2019?” Here was the agency’s answer:

Your request fails to delineate whether you seek the total number of suspensions/revocations imposed versus the number of individuals who had a suspension/revocation imposed, as there are instances where an individual may have multiple suspensions/revocations placed on their driving privileges throughout a calendar year. Further, you did not delineate whether the data you seek is applicable where the individual has a renewable/unexpired document or whether they were already suspended/revoked. Accordingly, your request fails to reasonably describe records. … A request for records without specific terms is not a request for records as envisioned by FOIL.

Reminder: We had spent five months in 2019 asking the DMV press shop for this information and were told only to request the information via the Freedom of Information process; we were never told we were using improper “terms.”

We had also asked subsequent questions, but answers to those were also denied by the FOIL and Subpoena Unit. We sought:

  • “A breakdown of the lengths of the revocations and suspensions (i.e. X number were for one month, X number were for one month to three months, X number were for three months to a year, X number were for more than a year, X number were permanent).”
    • The rejection? “As your second request is incumbent upon a response to your first request, this request is denied as well.”
  • “How many revoked licenses were restored after a driver reapplied and was retested?”
  • “How many were not restored even after the driver reapplied and was retested.”
    • The rejection of those two questions? “Your requests fail to reasonably describe records. A request for records without specific terms is not a request for records as envisioned by FOIL. The response would involve making a series of judgments.”

The letter also said that even if our requests were not flawed, they probably would not have been answered anyway: “To the extent that your requests reasonably describe records, the data is not maintained in a manner that permits practical retrieval,” the office stated.

A call to the DMV press office was not returned.

Streetsblog is appealing and we will keep you posted.

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