Motorists can't wait any
longer for DMV reform
Peeler is the lieutenant governor of South Carolina. He is the
first Republican elected to the office since Reconstruction. A
small businessman born and raised in Gaffney, he and his
family now reside in Lexington.
By Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler
These days the DMV seems a lot more like the DMZ. A trip to get a
license renewed should not leave the customer feeling like the enemy
in the midst of a hostile standoff. However, too often, it does.
When Jim Hodges became governor, he pledged to fix problems at the DMV
and make it more customer-friendly. He toured the state and spent time
behind the counters at local DMV offices. He pledged to make DMV more
"productive, efficient, and pleasant."
Since that time, however, the governor has failed to implement any
substantive reform recommendations. Instead, he proposed cutting the
DMV state budget by 15 percent this past year. Were it not for state
lawmakers who restored half of the Hodges cuts, DMV would be in worse
shape than it is today.
This year, DMV locations are reporting wait times in excess of three
hours. And according to the DMV's own Web site, the average downtime
per equipment failure is 11.57 hours with over 22 equipment failures
per office, per month. Once you do the math, the result is alarming:
something is broken at your DMV more than every hour of every day.
It's one thing for a governor to claim a focus on education, but when
that focus becomes tunnel vision, other state priorities tend to blur
into one big mess. And under Jim Hodges' watch, that's exactly what's
happened at the DMV.
Make no mistake, DMV needs reform. The best way to bring about that
reform is not to raise taxes or increase fees, but to change the
culture of DMV by reducing the number of people who actually have to
Here in South Carolina, Gov. Beasley started a mail-in license renewal
plan based on recommendations from a performance review I chaired. The
Hodges administration, however, has failed to effectively build upon
Other states are way ahead of us. In Florida, citizens can renew their
driver's licenses online and never set foot in a DMV office. In
Colorado, taxpayers can renew their license by fax. States like
California have instituted 1-800 numbers so that motorists can renew
their licenses over the phone. In Texas, they expect 15 percent of all
drivers' license renewals to occur online or via phone by the end of
the year. And again, in Florida, officials expect 44 percent of their
renewals to be conducted by mail, phone or Internet.
The governor's DMV officials talk about "Project Phoenix"
and getting to some of these reforms later, but South Carolinians
simply cannot afford to wait any longer for DMV to rise out of the
As a result, next year I will propose legislation to create a Rapid
Renewal DMV Service — a proposal that will mandate immediate action
at DMV. By adding cutting-edge online services, a 1-800 license
renewal number, and utilizing mail-in registration to full advantage,
we can make trips to the DMV a choice instead of an obligation. We can
renew licenses online, instead of in lines.
For those who still have to do business at the local DMV, we can make
lines a thing of the past by implementing a "take a number"
system in every office statewide. This is already in effect in six
offices, but it's time to put it in every location and end lines in
DMV once and for all. No more standing around in winding stalls. If
you wait, you sit.
We'll also seek to alter DMV hours of operation for early morning,
evening, and perhaps weekend hours. Just like a business, the DMV
should keep hours and set priorities that meet the needs of customers,
not the other way around.
In Florida, DMV offices are open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through
Friday. Individuals can actually schedule appointments and avoid
waiting altogether. If restaurants and retailers can customize their
hours to fit customers, the South Carolina DMV ought to be able to as
Lastly, we'll draft legislation to create a DMV Better Business Fund
in order to refund fees for any South Carolinian waiting longer than
30 minutes to get their license renewed.
Attorney General Condon and others have talked about this concept and
it's a good idea that needs to be a reality. Just like a business, the
DMV needs to offer a money-back guarantee when the service they offer
isn't delivered right.
If DMV does a good job, it won't take much out of their existing
budget. And if DMV doesn't do a good job, it will. Either way, this
creates a climate that perpetuates performance and accountability.
Next session, I will join legislators to unveil a comprehensive DMV
reform package. Our focus will be simple: rapid renewal service, the
elimination of lines, convenient hours, and your money back if you
wait too long. That's what South Carolinians deserve. And that's what
it's time to give them.