DMV backed up on teen driver’s testing

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Two-month COVID shutdown causes backlog on services

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  • From left, Lillian Dose and Aubrey Garfield take their driver’s license exams at the Hamilton County Courthouse with examiners Mike Thomas and Jen Sola. News-Register/Kurt Johnson
    From left, Lillian Dose and Aubrey Garfield take their driver’s license exams at the Hamilton County Courthouse with examiners Mike Thomas and Jen Sola. News-Register/Kurt Johnson
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Sixteen-year-olds anxious to get their driver’s license may have to be patient as the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles plays catch-up after a two-month pandemic shutdown.

The line at the Hamilton County Courthouse was 10-deep with people waiting in line on a recent Tuesday morning, though DMV officials say things should be back to normal by the end of July.

“We’ve been about double busy what we usually are but I figure in about a month we’ll kind of be back to the numbers we can manage,” said Mike Thomas, one of two driver’s license examiners based in York. “Right now it’s non-stop. Every place we go we have people waiting.”

Thomas and his partner, Jen Sola, travel to Aurora every Tuesday, covering York, Seward and Butler counties on other days of the week with a set schedule.

“Just for what we’re seeing right now you’ll probably wait about 40 minutes to get processed, depending on what kind of appointments we already have set from the week before,” Thomas said. “One young man came in and had to wait an hour and a half, but we try to get them in as fast as we possibly can.

“I have had zero problem with anyone,” he added when asked about the reception he gets each day. “Everybody knows that things have been shut down. When that happens, you aren’t going to catch up over night.”

Adam Eakin, project and information manager with the DMV office in Lincoln, noted that Hamilton County’s driver’s testing and renewal station was one of many to close down across the state. Only 17 remained open throughout the shutdown.

“At the start of the pandemic we didn’t want to compete to get PPE when we knew there were emergency medical facilities trying to get face masks and those sorts of things,” he said. “We just didn’t feel that was appropriate so we took the position to wait until supplies were back to normal.”

One service that didn’t shut down was the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) testing, Eakin explained.

“There was a big push to keep trucks on the road so we wanted to do what we could to facilitate that,” he said. “Anyone who needed to get a CDL we were able to provide that written test, and then were able to do the drive test with third party partners.”

For Hamilton County residents, that required a drive to York County, which is actually part of the normal routine since CDL testing isn’t offered in Aurora. The CDL driving test takes about four hours, which wouldn’t be possible with the limited staff here. CDL testing is offered in York two days a week.

Once given the green light to open up for regular testing, Thomas and Sola spent the first two weeks in York, where additional staff was brought in to help handle the heavier traffic.

“That was the only station within 75 miles so we were just swamped in York for two weeks,” he said. “We have five examiners going, and we were still having a hard time keeping up.”

Renewal process extended

In Hamilton County, there were no driver’s license renewals, replacements or drive tests offered from mid-March through the end of May. Last year, there were 389 customer service visits in April and May, which means there was a backlog waiting when testing finally resumed in June.

“There are a lot of teenagers out there and I personally feel sorry for them,” Eakin said. “You have to wait until you can get your driver’s license and then the pandemic hit, but there was not a lot we could do.”

Anyone needing to renew their license was given some extra time, thanks to two executive orders signed by Gov. Pete

‘We’ve been about double busy what we usually are (after the pandemic shutdown) but I figure in about a month we’ll kind of be back to the numbers we can manage.’

Mike Thomas, DMV license examiner Ricketts. Law enforcement agencies at all levels have been advised that license’s expiring after March 1 will be considered valid until the emergency order is lifted. Secondly, drivers 72 or over are required to renew their license each year, though this year all of those will automatically be extended to one year from the date on their license. “Letters have been sent out to

“Letters have been sent out to everyone,” Eakin said of the executive orders. “Teenagers have to come in and test so we’re trying to space things out for others so they don’t need to rush in.”

Across the state, permanent driver’s testing services are offered five days a week in several locations, including Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island. Additional staff members have been hired at each of those locations, where appointments are usually one to two days out.

“It’s a steady flow, but it’s not overwhelming,” Eakin said. “With social distancing it looks like a very long line with everyone spread six feet apart but we are able to keep the line moving. We do have a requirement that people wear face masks during the drive portion of the exam.”

The volume of people needing to make a trip to the courthouse to renew their license has gone down since Nebraska converted to a five-year license. Drivers can renew their five-year license two times in a row online, meaning they only have to come in and see DMV staff every 15 years.

For additional information, log on to the DMV website at dmv.nebraska.gov.

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