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 zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: May 13, 2013 at 12:29 am •  Published: May 13, 2013

Despite new online scheduling capabilities and occasional Saturday appointments, frustration with the state department that administers driver's license testing continues to boil over.

The busiest time of year for Department of Public Safety's testing sites is still weeks away, but already Oklahomans looking to obtain or renew their driver's licenses are lining up hours in advance.

Dozens who watched the sun come up outside the testing site in Edmond on Friday were turned away or forced to schedule appointments two weeks out after only the first 13 people in line were afforded an opportunity to test.

“It's like waiting for concert tickets or something — it's ridiculous,” said Tina Dupree, an Edmond hospital nurse who left her graveyard shift an hour early and still didn't make the final cut. “I need a driver's license before two weeks and my only day off is Monday, so it looks like I'm going to have to come at like 4:30 in the morning.”

Long lines at driver's license sites is a common gripe across the country, but in Oklahoma a series of budget cuts and staff shortages has made the wait excruciating.

Last summer, lines began forming at some testing sites as early as 2 a.m.

“They need to privatize it; the state can't handle it,” said Floyd P. Davis of Oklahoma City, who waited in second place with his 16-year-old daughter, Myriah, at the Edmond test site on Friday.

In first place was Nick Henley, who showed up at 4:45 a.m. Friday and spent the morning watching YouTube videos on his phone until the 7 a.m. opening.

As Henley, the Davises and the others piled in, Kelly Akin, exam director, handed each of them a hand-numbered card. When Akin reached No. 13, he stopped.

“Everybody else coming in, take a number out of the box and have a seat,” he said. “We don't know yet if we will pull you or not — we don't know until closer to eight o'clock.”

But with seven others scheduled for test appointments that day, it was clear by 8 a.m. that no one else was going to make it.

Agency's changes

Public outcry over the difficulties of taking a driver's test encouraged Department of Public Safety officials last summer to take a look at ways of making the process more efficient.

First, the department closed testing sites for a day and brought examiners to Oklahoma City for a customer service workshop. Then, starting with fall and winter breaks, the department began paying its examiners overtime to accommodate the rush of student test takers.