THE LINE – If you are waiting to get your Texas driver’s license, don’t check your watch, or the calendar. Cut down a tree and count the rings. I have been waiting here since February, or maybe March, as one of my editors said, “I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate.”
Every Texan knows there are three events we really dread: a Rice-Texas football game, listening to a Rick Perry speech and getting our driver’s license. It has always been a long and dreary process, but I swear the problem has become worse since the Texas Legislature cut spending for the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Our state troopers’ motorcycles have pedals and training wheels, the Texas Rangers moonlight as Dallas baseball players and the drivers license offices are only open during eclipses of the moon.
Take this one office (we have three in the state). The lines formed at dawn. Some applicants brought their lunch, others have their pup tents and a few women have their children, even though they weren’t pregnant when they arrived. To wile away the days, I have investigated this long-running sore. First, part of the problem is that everyone but the OU football team wants to be a Texan. Remember, our state’s population increases on average of 1,100 a DAY, and even new-borns, like the ones around me now, want to drive. For 12 years there was little increase in the drivers license (let’ call it DL, the DPS does) operations, but that has changed and apparently I am wrong about it getting worse.
According to the DPS there has actually been an increase in the department’s budget. The last session of the Legislature came up with $63 million in funding, which is being used to open six mega centers, hire 266 additional employees, and purchase equipment and technology “to improve customer service and efficiency.” We can only imagine how long this line would be if the lawmakers had spent that money more wisely, like hiring lawyers for the attorney general’s office to fight the onslaught of the 19th Century. The DPS says it is already lining up proposals for the upcoming session of the Leg to streamline the DL process. Next year: an abacus in every office!
Now some handy tips to get through the line quicker, or avoid it altogether. Clip and save. In some cases you can renew on-line. The DPS says: “A large number of people eligible to renew online, by phone or by mail aren’t currently taking advantage of this time-saving option. Visit texas.gov or call 1-866-DL-Renew to find out if you are eligible for these convenient service options. Change of address transactions can also be taken care of online.”
As with many state operations, Mondays and Fridays tend to be the busiest days. For customer convenience, most offices have extended hours until 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. But remember, state offices close for all state holidays, which include any month with an R. Summer is one of the busiest times in DL offices. DPS hires extra summer interns to handle the easy stuff — duplicates and renewals — to free up the pros for more complicated transactions, like applications from those in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Since you can renew anytime within one year of the expiration date of your DL, pick a time that is convenient for your schedule and perhaps shorter lines. One last point. Make sure you have all proper documents, including you pardon papers, and money. I paid $25, which is not bad for the priviledge of bouncing over potholes for the next six years. (Most licenses are good for that period, less time after your fifth DWI.)
If you are under 18 years of age the cost is $16 and if you’re 85 or older it’s $9. Shouldn’t the price for these two categories be, say, $5,000 a year? That would sure cut down on accidents. Motorcyclists must add $15 to the cost. We have all seen those suicidal “Wild One” wannabes zipping down the freeways, weaving in and out. Does that extra $15 cover the costs of cops, EMS and LifeFlights? Only in Texas do we have to wear a helmet if we ride a bicycle but not if we’re on a motorcycle. DL offices now accept credit cards, cash, checks, and money orders. Where does the money go? To something called the Texas Mobility Fund. I have never heard of that state agency and have no idea what it does, but I think it’s controlled by Ben Barnes.
Does it seem that every Texan is driving on your road and trying to get into your rightful parking spot? Probably, because there are approximately 16 million DLs currently in operation. Consider that the state’s population, as of this hour, is an estimated 25,674,681, and every one of them is going somewhere. The DPS doesn’t know who received the very first Texas driver license, but the state began issuing them in 1935. My mother started driving at age 14 before licenses were issued, and never did take a test. That explains our family’s car insurance rates. Photo IDs didn’t come in until 1968, and now have many uses, including voting.
A clerk at the DL office told me any applicant age 65 or over can go to the head of the line, but the DPS home office said that is not official policy. I would try to go to the front but the others waiting here would beat me to jelly with their walkers. You have noticed throughout this magnificent explanation that the document in question has been called a driver’s license, drivers’ license and just drivers license. So what is the legal name for it? Look on that piece of plastic in your wallet. It is driver license, not plural, not possessive, with no apostrophe. My eyes are listed as “BRO,” which is DPS talk for bloodshot. Now look at your photograph. Would you want that person driving on Texas roads?
Ashby is unlicensed at email@example.com