One of the most frustrating and time-consuming experiences with the state bureaucracy is also a familiar one to Utahns - getting or renewing a driver's license. Despite having some of the hardest-working people in state government, the license offices are overwhelmed with growing numbers of applications, resulting in long lines and long delays.
With 1.2 million licensed drivers in Utah and more than 400,000 license applicants to deal with each year, the Driver License Division has fewer workers than it had 12 years ago. The result is a sort of organized chaos. Simply renewing a license can take an hour and a half or more.In addition, the division is not fully self-supporting with the revenue it generates from fees. Additional money must be taken from the hard-pressed highway road building fund.
Common-sense efforts to handle both problems by raising license fees and using part of the increase to speed up the licensing process by opening three branch offices along the Wasatch Front keep running into problems in the Legislature.
Last year, a bill was introduced to open branch offices in Salt Lake and Utah counties and pay for them by boosting the driver's license fee by $5, from $10 to $15. That was hardly an enormous sum since the license is good for four years. But the measure died in the Legislature.
A similar bill has been requested by the governor for the 1991 Legislature and was approved by an interim legislative committee. Yet in the opening days of this session, the House Transportation Committee amended the measure to allow only a $2 fee hike. That will help the division be self-supporting, but just how it will impact crucial plans for branch offices is less clear.
Many people renew their driver's licenses by mail. That has helped the crowded situation to some degree. But mail renewal cannot always be done. Some simply don't get around to it until too late. In thousands of other cases, if a driver has renewed several times in a row, a personal application must be made to update the photograph and other information on the license.
A traffic citation since the previous renewal also usually means that application must be made in person. Another bill in the Legislature, SB54 by Sen. David H. Steele, R-West Point, seeks to raise the allowable points for traffic offenses by a small amount so drivers with only one ticket in four years - say, exceeding the speed limit by 10-19 mph - can still qualify for renewal by mail.
Driver license officials say this could affect some 10,000 motorists a year, only a relative handful of total applicants, but every bit helps.
Lawmakers should pass this measure and reinstate the $5 driver license fee increase as well. This is something that must be done if the licensing system is going to do the job expected of it. There is no reason to make a common task such as renewing a driver's license into an exasperating and irritating ordeal.