In April of 2017, Mustafa Lynch’s minivan slammed into motorcyclist Christopher Lucero, pinning him beneath the larger vehicle. As he sat in his car over the injured Lucero, Lynch could have done the right thing and remained at the scene. He didn’t—the 73-year-old driver fled the scene of the accident.
A report from the Boston Globe has used this story of recklessness and tragedy to point out something important: many states are allowing people to drive when they shouldn’t. At the time, Lynch was licensed to drive by Massachusetts and living in Rhode Island. His dangerous driving record had already triggered a license suspension in two states. After skipping a court hearing for a moving violation in Connecticut, the state sent a letter to Massachusetts informing officials that Lynch shouldn’t be allowed to drive. They ignored that letter along with tens of thousands of others.
In other words: Christopher Lucero might still be alive today had the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles taken the letter seriously.
What Does This Mean for the Trucking Industry?
For years, federal road safety officials have warned that the United States doesn’t have the right system in place to track dangerous drivers from state to state. Ultimately, it’s up to the state officials to figure out if a driver has a safe record. But, as seen with Mustafa Lynch, many states don’t keep up with the driving records of new residents.
For example, the Globe uncovered the story of a Tennessee truck driver who had more than a dozen license suspensions across the nation. While driving in Maine, he slammed his semi-truck into multiple cars, killing two drivers. This means that some truck drivers might be legally allowed to drive in other states despite having a driving record that places everyone close to them at risk of death or serious injury.
“It’s incredible that something happens in one state, and then it’s forgotten or sits in a pile forever,” said Catherine Koessl, a woman who lost multiple family members because of a reckless driver. “If these two states can’t communicate, if they can’t manage it one way or another, it makes you wonder if anyone is managing it.”
Officials Agree That It’s Too Hard to Track Dangerous Drivers Between States
According to the Globe, about 1 in 10 drivers have at least one moving violation that isn't reflected on a national record. Instead, it's up to state traffic officials to make sure other states are notified of the violation. Then, it's up to other states to act on the information that they receive.
Additionally, other data suggest that about 22 million drivers with offenses are unaccounted for. Many of them should have had their licenses suspended or revoked permanently.
Statistics show that there are about 11 car accident deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. While it doesn’t have the worst traffic accident fatality rate in the world, the United States still has a concerning amount of preventable accidents. In fact, the government devotes billions of dollars each year to try and decrease this number. Yet, they’ve failed to track dangerous drivers—resulting in many preventable and deadly accidents every year.
Jim Moran, a former congressman from Northern Virginia, tried twice to reform the nation’s licensing laws. Neither of his proposed laws made it out of committee.
“If you have lost your license because you’re a dangerous driver in one state,” said Moran, “you’re not going to become a different person when you cross into another state. … Crossing a state line is not like coming out of the confessional booth.”
How Severe Is the Lack of License Monitoring in the United States?
In its report, the Globe reviewed 20 years of driving data in Massachusetts. It found that, in many instances, officials waited years to post license suspension offenses to the records of unsafe drivers. The results were 766 crashes caused by drivers who shouldn’t have been driving. In other words, officials could have prevented many serious crimes had drivers’ records been updated quickly. The Globe’s story goes on to cite stories of dangerous drivers who were able to get away with driving after serious infractions until they eventually caused deadly accidents that likely would have been prevented with the right amount of sharing.
After denying a plea deal for house arrest and a permanently revoked license, Mustafa Lynch drove away from the courthouse. If he’s convicted, he faces five years in prison. Meanwhile, the family members and friends of those slain by repeat-offense drivers are waiting for the licensing reform that could have saved their loved ones.