Driver's license offices seek to cut wait times

Friday, August 5, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 31

NASHVILLE (AP) - A new requirement that Tennessee voters must have photo identification is putting more pressure on driver's license examining stations to cut wait times.

The administration of Gov. Bill Haslam is moving to improve the efficiency of the Driver Services Division of the Tennessee Department of Safety. A pilot program is under way in Davidson County and the aim is to reduce the time people wait to receive service from an average of 50 minutes to 30 minutes.

Next week, the department will require all centers to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, according to The Tennessean (

It also plans to hire an assistant commissioner to oversee driver service centers on a day-to-day basis. In addition, the department plans to upgrade its computer systems, review its procedures and roll out kiosks that can handle simple transactions, such as renewals, without a visit to a service center.

For mer Gov. Phil Bredesen also tried to improve the wait times at the examination stations, but many of his ideas were never implemented.

In a 2005 study commissioned by the Bredesen administration, FedEx Corp. said the Driver Service Division should upgrade its equipment, set up more self-service outlets and standardize its hours.

"There were a lot of extremely common-sense ideas that turned out to be more complicated," said Will Pinkston, an adviser to Bredesen who worked on the study. "It just got chewed up in the bureaucracy."

In May, Haslam signed a law that requires Tennessee voters to show picture identification before voting. Registered voters who lack a driver's license, passport or other such identification can get a card free of charge.

But to get a card they must visit a driver's license office. Thirty of Tennessee's 95 counties have no locations to get a driver's license, and the waits in the 65 counties where they are available can last hou r s at peak times.

Voting rights groups say long wait times are unfair to voters, especially the elderly, poor and disabled.

"Not everybody can just get in their car and take three hours or two hours or even one hour and go to the DMV," said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, which opposed the voter identification bill. "I just urge people to put themselves in the place of Tennessee's senior citizens or a disabled person or a person working two or three jobs."

Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said the long waits are not just a problem in Tennessee.

"It's a nationwide problem," he said. "It's a big challenge."