Mistakes happen. Even the government employees who use federal databases every day admit they contain errors that can strip innocent people of their rights.
A person’s name could be on a federal “no-fly” list or a restricted driver database and they would have no way of knowing until it’s already a serious problem.
For drivers, the problems start with a database called the Problem Driver Pointer Service or “PDPS”. It’s part of the National Driver Registry. The system flags drivers who have a suspended or revoked license in one state so they can’t cross state lines and get a valid license in a new jurisdiction.
Since South Carolina DMV started using the PDPS in 2007, Deputy Director Shirley Rivers said it has returned 50,000 licenses that were flagged as potential problems.
When someone renews a license, the system runs overnight. Flagged entries would get a letter that’s mailed the next day.
It’s exactly what happened to David Franklin Ervin of Spartanburg.
Ervin, a 78 year old retired preacher, said he never touched a drop of alcohol and lived his life in the Lord’s service.
“I’ve been a minister for 38 years,” Ervin said.
But North Carolina’s DMV returned a record that appeared to show the same David Franklin Ervin was hell on wheels.
The record showed Ervin with 5 DWI convictions and at least 7 speeding violations. It showed him as having a suspended license. It said, essentially, Ervin shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
So, after Ervin renewed his license this year, he got a letter from the South Carolina DMV the very next day that said his right to drive would be suspended in 60 days.
“I want my name cleared because I’m not guilty and I don’t know what this is all about,” Ervin said.
The DMV was cracking down on the wrong man.
That driving record, the one sent to PDPS by the North Carolina DMV, contained some obvious problems. For one thing, it listed the wrong birthday for David Franklin Ervin. Another problem? It said he was dead.
It turns out there are, or at least were, two David Franklin Ervins. They were born two years apart. One, the North Carolina Ervin, racked up the long list of moving violations. 7 News found his death certificate in Charlotte. He was killed by a shotgun wound to the neck in 1987.
“Both of them came back. Both David Franklin Ervins, with both date of birth, and both were showing not/not, which means not eligible in North Carolina,” Rivers said.
Once the North Carolina DMV merged the records of two people named David Franklin Ervin, the PDPS had no way to tell them apart and SC DMV had no choice but to punish a retired preacher.
Rivers said those kinds of mistakes were rare but still happen “once or twice a year” at her office.
Marge Howell, a spokesperson for the NC DMV said, “You have to realize that over time these records are merged, one computer database with another computer database, and there are bound to be hiccups with that process.”
After about 40 hours of his own phone calls, and several calls from 7 News, NC DMV was able to re-examine Ervin’s record. It is now clean. SC DMV has restored his right to drive.