Drivers still waiting up to 4 hours for license renewals

So instead of sitting in neutral at the Norcross office, he took his number and drove nearly 25 miles to the Cumming office. . He found out the wait there was four hours, too.

Long lines continued at metro Atlanta drivers license offices Tuesday as frustrated drivers clutched papers they hoped would usher them through the state's cumbersome new process for renewing licenses. Despite the state's assurances wait times would decrease this week, drivers still waited between two and four hours. At some offices drivers were being turned away. Before the changes, renewing a driver's licenses typically took about 35 minutes.

In response to last week's outcry, the Department of Driver Services expanded the list of acceptable documents it would accept to prove residency and identity and moved staff to high demand areas, said Susan Sports, a DDS spokeswoman.

"We still have unacceptable wait times," Sports said. "There's a learning curve for examiners and customers."

During a stop in Columbus on Monday, House Speaker David Ralston blamed the DDS for inadequately preparing for the new law, the Columbus Ledger Enquirer reported. He told the newspaper legislators had no choice but to implement the law because it was mandated by the federal government.

Gail Calhoun of Atlanta is unhappy with how the changes are being handled. She waited at the Norcross office Tuesday after she couldn't show the necessary documents on Saturday. Three hours after she signed in, there were still over 40 people in front of her.

"They really need to come up with a better system," she said.

Still, she was relatively fortunate to have a number. By mid-day, the Norcross office had quit accepting any more people.

Under new requirements passed by the Legislature, drivers renewing their licenses must now bring an original or certified birth certificate or valid passport, proof of a Social Security number and two documents proving where they live. Previous rules required these documents only for those applying for a new driver's license or ID card.

The new law, which went into effect July 1, comes in response to federal calls for more secure documentation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Georgia has implemented various changes to licenses and identification cards at different phases and has until 2017 to get licenseholders over age 50 in compliance.

Before the new law was implemented, the average wait for a license renewal was 35 minutes, Sports said. Last week, the longest average was seven hours and 40 minutes, Sports said.

To streamline the process, the department has made some adjustments to expand the list of documents it accepts. For example, applicants can now bring any year's federal income tax return as proof of a Social Security number.

"We are watching things closely, and we have heard the concerns of the customers, legislators, the press and everyone," said Sports, who spent much of Tuesday helping out at the Sandy Springs center.

Sports said the department will still issue a temporary license to those who fail to bring the proper documentation. The temporary licenses are printed on security paper with the driver's photo.

"They've got our thumbprint already," said Edla Ringue of Marietta. "How much more identification can they need?"

Some women are finding the process more tedious than men.

Fran Shumaker of Loganville said her 86-year-old mother-in-law was issued a temporary permit after she failed to bring a marriage license. The DDS requires that if an applicant's name has changed from that shown on the birth certificate, he or she must bring documentation to support the new name.

"She doesn't have a marriage license," Shumaker said. "She hasn't needed one since she was married in Donaldson, Tennessee in 1947."

Sports said the agency sent out 157,020 postcards reminding people of the new requirements.

In 2005, the state put $1.5 million into improving drivers license services in response to four hour lines in the metro area.

Showing proof

Drivers, whether they have lived in Georgia five years or 50 years, will have to prove where the live and who they are under new security guidelines.

Drivers must have:

  • An original or certified birth certificate. An expired passport will be accepted.
  • Social security card or recent tax return with Social Security numbers
  • Proof of where they live such as a recent utility bill.
  • For a complete list of acceptable documents go to the DDS website at http://www.dds.ga.gov/drivers/index.aspx

How to shorten the wait

There are about 20 metro Atlanta DDS offices and all are moving slower than normal under the new security guidelines for renewing driver's licenses, said Susan Sports, a DDS spokeswoman. Sports says the following might shorten the wait.

  • Bring all required documents.
  • Avoid Tuesdays. DDS offices are either closed or open limited hours on Mondays. So Tuesdays are busy.
  • Visit larger, free-standing DDS offices with larger office space and more staff. Avoid smaller offices.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.