Outside experts want changes in state driver’s license system

People wait in line to sign up to take their driving knowledge test.
People wait in line to sign up to take their driving knowledge test at the Eagan test site for Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services in 2020 while the DVS system worked through backlogs while trying to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Peter Cox | MPR News 2020

Minnesota could soon have higher fees for driver’s licenses and fewer license exam locations, if state lawmakers act on the recommendations of an independent group of experts.

A recent report from the group, which was headed by former Thomson Reuters executive Rick King, includes 31 recommendations for Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) and state lawmakers to consider for improving customer service.

“We don’t work for the state. We did this because we want the system to work well for the citizens of the state,” King said.

King highlighted the report and its recommendations during a Thursday news conference. He said many of the proposed changes could be handled administratively by DVS. Others would require legislation.

The report recommends that state law be amended this year to increase the filing fee for driver’s license applications. An amount is not stated.

King said the increased fees would benefit the deputy registrars, public and private, that handle such transactions, and who he said have had a stressful stretch through technology changes, COVID-19 and preparations for Real ID.

“Many of the deputy registrar offices have begun declining to do any of the driver license activities because of the type of questions they received and the number of repeat visits where they don’t get fees.”

The report recommends that there should be 40 to 50 license exam stations statewide. That would be a decrease from the 93 locations the state plans to have back in operation this month following COVID-19 closures.

“The number of exam stations, to me, is not nearly as important as to make sure that the exam stations that we have are open, staffed and available to folks, so that when they want to take their tests, they know when they get there, they’ll be taken care of,” said state Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

Newman, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, said he believes legislation on many of the recommendations will be introduced early in the legislative session and will have bipartisan support.

State Rep. Steve Elkins, DFL-Bloomington, a member of the House transportation committee, said he shares Newman’s optimism.

“I’m highly confident that that will get done,” Elkins said.

In a letter formally responding to the report, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said that he agrees with the recommendation to close some exam stations.

“With appropriate funding, it will allow for better customer service and increased efficiencies at exam stations,” Harrington wrote.

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