Compton post boxes aren't good enough to satisfy MVA

Woman learns driver's license requires physical address

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff photo by JAY FRIESS
On the left is a picture of a package that managed to find Karen Hause of Compton using her old driver's license address. On the right, is Hause's driver's license with a new Leonardtown address that does not have a corresponding mailbox. In the center is Hause, who wishes the MVA would be as resourceful as the company that shipped her package.

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Compton does not exist. However, according to the United States Postal Service, Compton does exist, but only inside the Compton Post Office.

Karen Hause of Compton isn't terribly worried about the official status of Compton. She would just like to have both her Compton post office box address, where she gets her mail, and her Leonardtown physical address, where she lives, on her driver's license, like it has been for the last 10 years.

"I'm kind of frustrated," Hause said, explaining her problem.

The problem, like all good bureaucratic snafus, started with a computer. Hause said she received a notice to renew her driver's license in the mail and decided to try the MVA's online renewal process. All was fine until it came time to enter her address. Hause entered her Newtowne Neck Road address with her Compton ZIP code.

Did not compute.

Hause then tried her address with a Leonardtown ZIP code.

Access granted.

And that was the problem. Hause's home is officially located in the Leonardtown Post Office ZIP code for delivery purposes. The Compton Post office doesn't deliver mail. But Hause doesn't have a mailbox for direct delivery. She has a Compton Post Office box with a Compton ZIP, an exclusive postal code that does not extend beyond the doors of the post office.

"And so does everyone, all 112 people who live in Compton," Hause said.

Hause does not officially live in Compton, but she gets her mail in Compton, so she doesn't have to drive five miles up the Compton peninsula to the downtown Leonardtown Post Office. So, until now, she had both her physical and box addresses on her license with the Compton ZIP code.

This does not please the MVA, who would like Hause to have a verifiable, physical Leonardtown address on her official identification card. Officially, the MVA only needs a valid address to send Hause and other Compton residents their renewal notices, licenses, tags and other car-related stuff.

However, according to Buell Young, MVA spokesman, the Maryland court system uses the MVA's license database to verify the location of people with arrest warrants, indictments, summons and other business with the court. You can send a traffic ticket notice to a post office box, but you can't send a police officer to serve a warrant.

"Law enforcement uses that address," said Buell Young, MVA spokesman. "You self-certify under penalty of perjury that your address is correct."

According to John Miller, manager of address management systems at the U.S. Postal Service's Capital District offices in Silver Spring, MVA is more than welcome to use its postal database, but they don't use it as intended.

"The difficulty is the misuse of the postal database," Miller said. He said MVA buys the USPS database, but "all that tells them is whether or not the postal service has the address in there and delivers to it."

Miller said MVA's insistence on treating the postal database as an absolute arbiter of a person's physical location is "a serious issue for some folks living in relatively small enclaves."

So why can't MVA just put both addresses on Hause's license? It's all Melissa's fault.

"Melissa" is the MVA's computer system that balked at Hause's hybrid address in the first place. According to Young, it can't store more than three lines of address for a Maryland driver's license. Two addresses would require four lines. MVA may soon upgrade Melissa to accept four lines, but Hause will not benefit from that until her next license renewal.

So why can't Hause just put up a mailbox at the end of her driveway and get her MVA mail at her house? For starters, she said the end of her driveway is a third of a mile from her house. She might as well walk to the post office. And she said she can't see the end of her driveway from the house, so she wouldn't be able to keep an eye on her mailbox.

"It's going to get wet; it's going to get stolen; it's going to get knocked down," Hause predicted.

Hause is not done with the MVA just yet. She said she plans to write her state legislators to ask them to correct the problem, and she encouraged her neighbors and rural post office box holders in similar places like Mt. Victoria in Charles County to do so as well.

But, if her efforts fail, Hause said she will submit to her new situation. "I'm a law-abiding citizen who always does what I'm supposed to do," Hause said. "I don't want to be a criminal."