Driver’s license offices reviewed

By JACK RYAN ENTERPRISE JOURNAL,

Anyone who believes that renewing their driver’s license is more difficult than it used to be now has evidence to support that opinion.

A report issued Wednesday by the Mississippi Legislature’s watchdog agency, known as PEER, said the average customer’s waiting time at an office to get a driver’s license or state ID card has tripled in the past two years.

Among the reasons for this:

• 30% of examiner jobs were vacant in June 2019 compared to 20% the year before.

• A new computer system is doing what lots of new systems do: Slowing things down, largely because of difficulty communicating with federal and out-of-state databases.

• Increased documentation requirements, mostly set by the federal government.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to fix these problems and make a visit to the driver’s license office nothing more than a routine task.

For starters, the Department of Public Safety could fill all the examiner’s jobs, and any other openings at these offices. That would be the single best way to improve service.

Most likely, the agency cut back on staff as part of the Legislature’s austerity program of recent years. The problems cited by PEER are an excellent example of how easily too much austerity can become a hindrance.

PEER said the state has started hiring. It’s also working to improve the renewal process at mobile kiosks, which are in some locations around the state. The best news is that DPS is setting up a procedure in six locations where people can make an appointment for license renewals. If that works on a wide scale, it ought to decrease wait times tremendously.

Other ideas in the PEER report come from a simple review of what neighboring states do.

Tennessee is working with counties to provide driver’s license services. Louisiana trains and certifies private driving schools to administer road skills tests. And in what sounds like the most efficient use of state resources, Alabama and Arkansas license staffs work with other state agencies to provide multiple services.

If there’s one disappointing element of the PEER report, it’s that Mississippi only has driver’s license offices in about half of its counties — 43 of 82. Surely the state can do better.

Maybe in the least populated counties, there’s no need for a driver’s license office that’s open every day. But this is the perfect scenario to operate part-time with another state agency, or in a county courthouse, or at a sheriff’s department.

Only one element of the PEER report needs further review: the licensing of young drivers.

PEER said the Department of Public Safety should consider a home-based or school-based online testing program for teenage drivers, and accept confirmation from school-based instructors that a young driver is ready for the road.

Given that young drivers are involved in a large percentage of accidents, this is a step too far. Let today’s kids sweat through a driving test with a state trooper, just like the rest of us did.

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