Drivers take California DMV offices’ computer crash in stride

A security guard directs people to the end of a long line outside the DMV office in South Los Angeles on Tuesday. A computer crash at DMV offices statewide left clerks without access to information needed for issuing licenses and vehicle registrations.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

What could be more soul sapping than standing in line at the state Department of Motor Vehicles?

Standing in line at the DMV in 100-degree heat on a day the agency’s computers melt down.

That’s what drivers were greeted with Tuesday when a “connectivity issue” with AT&T; and Verizon caused a computer crash at DMV offices statewide that left clerks without access to information needed for issuing licenses and vehicle registrations.

At some offices, typically long lines stretched even longer, testing the patience of drivers.

“I get my license on my 16 bday today and of course they can’t give it to me,” one frustrated teenager wrote on the DMV’s Facebook page.

“Again???!!!!” wrote another.

Yes, again.

Tuesday’s interruption is the latest in a series of computer crashes that have tied the DMV up in knots over the last two years.

As a result, state officials are considering upgrading the maintenance plan for the DMV system, said Adam Dondro, assistant secretary for the California Technology Agency.

“Most of our agencies can go down for three hours sporadically without causing a big public issue,” Dondro said. “That is just not the case for the DMV.”

The DMV is already at work upgrading its core computer systems — a $208-million project that began in 2006 and is only about two-thirds complete. Work has been plagued in recent months by defective computer programming, delays and staffing problems, according to a status report last week.

On Tuesday, drivers who had innocently wandered into a DMV office were left with two options: wait or go home.

“I just want to get out of here,” said a frustrated Zane Urquhart, who lost his wallet Monday and had gone to the Hollywood office to get a replacement license. “It’s kind of like a double slap from God.”

He left.

Anthony Achilefu, 29, and Ian Seip, 24, were among about 15 people who chose to ride it out at the DMV’s Hawthorne office. More than 60 others who were waiting in line gave up.

Achilefu called his employer and said he was going to be late. He emailed a photo of a sign taped to the office entrance that said the computers were down.

“It was very frustrating,” Achilefu said.

Seip was unperturbed.

“It happens,” he said, fiddling with his phone. “I’m on a fantasy football league, so I was checking ESPN.”

For a lucky few, timing was everything.

Susana Cruz Davalos’ appointment to renew her license and registration at the Hawthorne office was at 11:40 a.m. — a few minutes before the state’s computers came back online.

But Cruz was prepared for any interference. She made another appointment for the same time Wednesday.

“You just never know with the DMV,” said her husband, Peter. “They got a reputation.”

Just ask Urquhart. He returned to the Hollywood office a few hours after leaving and discovered that the computers were up and running.

Alas, the ticket dispenser was broken.

“That’s the DMV for you,” he said.

Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Melissa Leu contributed to this report.