Government Failures, Beauracracy and the Local DMV

Last Friday was my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. A very exciting day, sweet sixteen, and in the state of Connecticut, the day you are allowed to get your driving permit. Though each state is slightly different, in Connecticut, before you are allowed to get your driver’s license, you must have a driving permit for a minimum of 90 days, as well as a certain number of driving hours and classroom instruction on driving safety as well. The instructions and requirements are available online. The permit is not just a right of passage anymore either, you must pass a basic multiple choice test first on the “rules of the road”. The state of Connecticut driver’s manual is easily accessible online, as well as various practice tests to gauge how well you know the material and help you not be nervous. So far so good.

When we first looked into this information a few months ago, we also noted the identification requirements needed by the applicant, as well as what proof of ID I would need as her parent approving her endeavors to learn to drive. The main list for her included either a passport as a solo item or a birth certificate with some other ID, such as a social security card or school ID. We rechecked everything again about a week in advance. Her passport seemed like the most logical choice, it was less than a year old, still looked like her, and certainly a valid form of identification throughout the world. It was not enough for the DMV.

We first walked in the DMV at about 11 in the morning. A man greeted us right inside asking what we were there for. We happily explained we were there for a new learner’s permit. He asked what ID we had with us. I mentioned her passport. He shook his head and said, sorry, that not enough anymore. He proceeded to pull out an information sheet with absolutely tiny writing in a light grey coloring, nearly impossible to make out the words. He said, see, right here, you need something from both lists now, as of the new laws enforced starting July 1st. I was not intentionally argumentative, just incredulous, why had the new points not been noted online perhaps a week ago? At that point we left to go home and get her social security card, I decided to just take her birth certificate along as well, just in case. When we arrived back, now noon time, we got in line, the first step was actually to go up to a digital picture machine to get our point in the que as well as security reasons I guess. I never actually saw the picture taken of my daughter, just a scan bar that was spit out at us.

The line itself was long, used for various purposes of the DMV. My license was to expire on Sunday(my birthday!) so I had brought my renewal letter and forms with me as well. I decided to check out that area of the DMV while my girl was in line. There was no one waiting in this particular area of the DMV. I walked right up to the counter, gave them my forms, showed my old license for a second, and paid $60.00. I next was called to have my new picture taken and sign my name. The whole process from start to finish was less than 7 minutes!! I was hopeful that the efficiency would continue, I was wrong.

My daughter and I waited for more than an hour to get to the front of the line. It was crowded, but yet there had only been about a dozen people ahead of us. There also seemed to be plenty of staff on duty, but yet nothing was flowing smoothly. It was finally our turn, we handed over our documents and forms. I was so excited, yet scared for my daughter to get behind the wheel, that is until the staff member asked for proof of residency. I said your joking right? You have my license, that I just renewed 50 minutes ago, two counters away from here, right in front of you, as well as her passport, birth certificate and social security card. Again, new rules as of July 1st. (really it would have been nice to know) What exactly do you need? A w-2 form was the answer…( Did I mention this was my daughter’s 16th birthday? There are no w-2’s yet just baby sitting money.) Anything else? Mail showing address.  I went to my car in hopes of finding anything. I came across my car registration with address as well as my most recent car payment bill. I ran back in thinking, yeah! I was wrong. My car payment envelope does not  have a dated stamp on it…I ask if I can just open it to prove the date? No, it must be closed….I’m stunned at this point. I realize I have to drive home again, and get my mail for today and hope there is something, that is two somethings that will be the right pieces of mail. The fifteen minute drive away is excruciating, but alas I am successful! Thank God! We mercifully are allowed to cut the line upon return, but that still means a wait at least with who is finishing up ahead of us. We finally get approval and are told to move to”area 3″ where my daughter will be called to take the test.

It is now almost 3 in the afternoon. We have been trying to accomplish this supposedly simple task for the last 4 hours. My daughter’s nerves are rattled with everything we’ve gone through so far. I try to reassure her that she will do just fine on the testing piece of this. I make a joke claiming that a DNA swab was the only thing missing from proving who she was, and in a paranoid state it dawns on me that this terrible process has been set up so that you would prefer to give up your right to privacy for something an easy as a swab just to make this go as quickly as my license renewal. It is a disturbing thought.

We wait for another hour, my patience is wearing thin, more because we have more exciting plans for the evening that do not include still being at the DMV at 4 pm after five hours waiting time. I approach the counter to try to find out what the delay is now, that other people who came after us had been called to take the test and that we really couldn’t stay much later as we had tickets to a show. They were nice, if annoyed by me, explaining that my daughter was finally going to be next. I politely asked what the delay was about and was told that her background check took longer to process than most, they didn’t know why. I was stunned. A background check for all new licensed drivers is enforced by the state of Connecticut now?!? I really didn’t feel so far off from my joke about the DNA anymore. I can not grasp how this has become part of the requirements for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and better yet what would have happened if there was something awry. I mean this is a driver’s license, not a gun permit. I grasp that there is safety needed while driving, but ultimately what rights are new drivers giving up to the government and why? The amount of time this process took, was costly to my value of time, though I was glad to be spending it with my child, however, the cost was more in what now is happening in the DMV. The staff was over-worked and yet very large. What do these new measures of safety cost us as tax payers? What does it cost in lost hours of work waiting in these lines? What do these measures add as value weighing in against what is also taken away in rights. It’s very disturbing. For now I will put it aside as I watch my daughter take to the road, we won’t be back again for 3 months until she takes her driving test!

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