a silhouette of a police officer with his lights on

This might shock those who know me, but on the first day of March … I was officially the bad boy of Marathon.

The last thing I expected to see as I pulled into 20th Street to take photos for an article was a set of blue-and-red lights behind me. I went through my normal process – thought about whether I’d been speeding (no), questioned whether maybe I missed a turn signal (no), and hid the gun and kilo of cocaine under the back seat. (That’s obviously a joke – don’t send me angry emails.)

Turns out I’d done nothing wrong, but the deputy told me that he had run my license plate. His computer system showed that the primary driver of my truck (me) had a Florida license that was currently expired. Confused, I pulled out my license – complete with a printed expiration date on my birthday in May 2024.

So you can imagine my complete confusion when, after returning to the car a few minutes later, the gentleman told me that according to his system, my license expired in November of 2023. Adding salt to the wound of my confusion was the fact that I walked away from the encounter with not one, not two, but THREE tickets for documentation I needed to correct. (Part of that is on me, I guess – I’ll never again rely on digital copies of my registration and insurance.)

Before we go on, I want to stress that this column is NOT to criticize the wonderful folks from MCSO or the DMV, all of whom were simply doing their jobs, got caught in the weird glitch I’m about to describe, and later helped me resolve the entire situation within 24 hours. I can’t say enough about how professional and helpful every single one of them was from start to finish. The situation, however, was nonsense.

Upon arriving at the tax collector’s office, I went to renew my good-until-a-couple-minutes-ago license. The only problem? According to the FLHSMV computer system, my Florida license had been canceled because my home state of Rhode Island had issued me a license on my birthday in May 2023.

Just in case it’s not clear how ridiculous this is, here are the facts: I moved to the Keys from Rhode Island in 2015, and immediately switched my license to Florida. I’ve never applied for a license in Rhode Island since leaving there, and never surrendered my Florida license. My supposedly expired/invalid Florida license got me through TSA and onto six airplanes with no issue since November. And for some reason, the Rhode Island DMV decided to send me a formal letter in late 2023 CONFIRMING that my Rhode Island license was canceled because I had obtained a valid Florida license. The date of that letter? Nov. 30, 2023.

Make that timeline make sense.

Fortunately, one of the women at the tax collector’s office had heard a similar story to mine, and pulled out an FLHSMV technical advisory from May 2023 (Technical Advisory DL 23-008, if you’re a nerd like me and want to read). According to that advisory, this is a known issue within the State-to-State (S2S) Verification Service, an electronic system used to check if a license applicant has a license or ID card in other participating states. 

It’s a great idea to prevent duplicates, to be sure. But in my case and others, the national computer system goofed – shocker, I know – and mistakenly showed Rhode Island as the last state to issue me a valid driver’s license.

It canceled my Florida license in the process. 

I know you’re probably surprised to hear this, but I don’t generally spend my week calling around to make sure my active licenses and registrations are still good. For me, the scary part about this was that I truly had no reasonable way of knowing.

Thankfully, once we figured out what was going on, the situation was easy enough to fix with a direct call to the Rhode Island DMV – again, thanks a million to all the wonderful employees at the Tax Collector’s office. But you can bet there will be a copy of that technical advisory sitting in my glove box for the foreseeable future, just in case.

And for those of you who have a license close to expiring and came here from another state beforehand, it might be worth a quick call to check. You might think you have a perfectly good Florida driver’s license. But do you?

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.