If the headline of this post scares you, it should.
Last summer I received notice that my Sunpass (electronic toll-paying device) failed to record a transaction. The notice demanded I send $5.00 to my county toll enforcement office. I did as instructed and moved on.
In January I was stopped in a city 130 miles away, and was advised I was driving with a suspended license. At first I thought someone made a mistake. I hadn’t traveled that far South in more than two years. Was there an imposter? Or perhaps a data entry error? Unfortunately not.
It turns out my local county never received my toll payment and thus suspended my license. I’d been driving illegally for some time. More surprising, though, is that I received no warnings or post-suspension notices from the state, which, I’m told, is standard. To say I was shocked would be an understatement, but what is there to do but take time away from work to sort it all out?
The ticketing officer was understanding and allowed me to drive home.
The next day I called the local toll enforcement officer, and, after several hours of phone calls and emails, we found the problem. The Sunpass device had failed on that one occasion and the system’s backup of tagging tolls based on the license plate failed as well. My check was never cashed (a reminder to myself to balance the personal books more than twice a year).
Days later the suspension was erased. It was as if it never happened and I could breathe again…
Until last month…
I went online to renew my driver’s license and was greeted with an alarming notice… My drivers license was about to be suspended again for failure to plead on the traffic stop ticket. I was under the impression (based on conversations with officials) that the reversal of the original suspension negated the traffic ticket, but, silly me, I didn’t confirm this via checking my own “criminal” record.
After several more phone calls, a plan for “salvation” was devised. I paid $10 for a 3-year driver history report (it was totally clean, save for the outstanding ticket), paid a $23 fine for filing a late plea, and pled not guilty. With my check I included a letter to the judge, requesting either dismissal or a hearing by phone. Driving 300 miles (round trip) and taking 7-8 hours out of my day is far from ideal. Seeing as the initial infraction was reversed, I thought I had a good shot at the judge simply making it all go away.
Wrong. While it would have been less expensive (under $200) and less time consuming (I can take a driver’s course online) to plead guilty and move on, there’s something I just can’t shake… that black cloud that seems to enjoy lingering over my head. Call it negativity, despite the fact I consistently remain positive, but deep down I just know that a guilty plea will somehow backfire on me down the road in some arcane way.
So, later this month I’ll log the miles on my trusty Saturn and stand before the judge, hoping he sees it the way I do. If the suspension, legally, never really existed, am I still guilty for what happened on that late night miles from home?
Until then, I’ll continue my self-tracking across the Internet, which includes bookmarks on my own name at local government sites. After all, I never received a notice in the mail about the second suspension either. Had I not attempted to renew my license a month early, I wouldn’t have had the time to file the necessary paperwork to ensure I could still drive until the hearing. If my license wasn’t up for renewal this year, who knows how long I would have gotten away driving without a valid license.
Lesson learned. Instead of just “googling” myself to see what’s being said, I now–quite religiously–click three bookmarks every week. They are links to my name search at the city, county and state level. Just to see if I’m due to spend a night in jail.
UPDATE: My license is now blemish-free. After traveling 3 hours (each way) I spent all but 30 seconds in front of the judge. She asked only, “How are you today?” Then said… “Dismissed, see the clerk.”