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Oklahoma struggles to keep lines manageable at driver's license testing sites

New online scheduling capabilities and Saturday appointments have helped reduce early-morning frustration outside Oklahoma's driver's license testing sites, but it may take millions of dollars — and the hiring of more than a dozen new examiners — to fully bring the service under control.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Modified: May 13, 2013 at 12:29 am •  Published: May 13, 2013

Now the state is starting to see results with its new online appointment-making process, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph, an agency spokeswoman.

“And it is going to be better, but it's not something that's going to happen overnight,” Randolph said. “We're just asking people to be patient with us.”

The department spent $12,000 on nearly 430 hours of overtime pay during Thanksgiving last year and spring break this year, Randolph said.

Along with regular testing, 900 people were accommodated during the two-week period of spring break in March alone, Randolph said. The department this month again began allowing Saturday testing through the end of June or until funding runs out, she said.

And more than 1,000 people have opted to avoid the lines and schedule their tests online with an appointment program unveiled in March, she said.

“We're trying to think of all these things that help, that are going to make the situation better and not worse,” Randolph said.

But perhaps the greatest impact could come in the form of legislation.

Senate Bill 652 by Sen. Don Barrington, R-Lawton, was approved by both the House and Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Mary Fallin.

If it becomes law, it will increase fees associated with obtaining or renewing a driver's license, but much of the funding will go toward increased staff and possibly the reopening of testing sites closed several years ago.

Increasing the fee for a general four-year driver's license from $21.50 to $33.50 — as well as similar increases in commercial licenses, learner's permits and identification cards — could mean an additional $8.7 million for the department, Barrington said.

It's enough to buy some expensive public safety communications systems, set aside some cash for the state's general revenue and still hire as many as 22 driving test examiners, he said.

“I'd be willing to say that probably every legislator in the state last summer got a phone call from a constituent dealing with a driver's license,” Barrington said.

Randolph said there are currently 98 examiners working for the department, down from 105 last summer, but that nine new hires are in examiner school right now with seven more scheduled to be hired in the next month.