DOL’s driver’s license status check not always accurate

A person’s driver’s license can be suspended or revoked for numerous reasons in Washington. Depending on the type of suspension, the person may be eligible for an Ignition Interlock License or some other restricted driver’s license. While the law requires a person to be notified that there license is suspended, depending on the situation, it can be difficult to determine whether a person’s license is valid or not. Fortunately, the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) has a handy online tool where a driver can check the status of their license in real time.

While this online tool is helpful, during my career as a criminal defense attorney, I have learned that this tool is not always accurate and sometimes displays false information. For instance, I recently had a client whose license was suspended but believed they had obtained a valid Ignition Interlock License. I looked into this client’s situation and confirmed they had done everything that was necessary to obtain this valid license. However, when the client looked up the status of their license at DOL’s online status check, it showed that the client’s Ignition Interlock License was not valid. If this were true, it would mean the client could be arrested for Driving with a License Suspended Second Degree at any moment, have their car impounded, and booked into jail. The client was obviously concerned with whether their license was valid or not.

I contacted DOL who confirmed my client had a valid Ignition Interlock License despite what DOL’s online status check showed. The DOL representative did not have an explanation for why the online feature shows my client’s license was not valid. Moreover, this was not a temporary computer glitch but the false information had been displayed for several months. I asked if police officers (who check the status of a person’s license from their patrol vehicle) would also be provided this false information and the DOL representative responded that law enforcement receives their mobile data from a separate network than the internet based status checks. So in theory, that should not be a problem.

It is concerning that DOL’s driver’s status check is not always accurate. People rely on this feature to determine if they are legal to drive.  What if the online status check says a person’s license is valid when in fact it is suspended. That person would rely on that information and drive, only to be arrested by law enforcement who is provided with other information. The lack of accuracy could lead to false arrests and law suits against DOL.