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Long waits loom for licenses: Renewals could take months as division faces backlog

Residents hoping to renew their driver’s licenses can still expect months-long delays thanks to a backlog at the County Vehicle Registration and Licensing Division.

Naomi O’Dell, administrator for the Vehicle Registration and Licensing Division, said her department currently is working through renewal processes for 13,000 expired or expiring driver’s licenses and that people trying to schedule an appointment for a renewal this week might not get into an office until April or May.

Renewing vehicle registrations, meanwhile, can take two or three weeks.

O’Dell said the delay stems from a two-month period last year, when the county’s VRL offices were closed from late March until early June because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the offices reopened in June, the backlog of cases from that period, along with COVID restrictions limiting the amount of people who can be in the offices at once, has left the division playing catch-up ever since.

“We thought the case load would be manageable (when we reopened),” O’Dell said, but added that new cases snowballed until the division went to an appointments-only system in September.

O’Dell said more than 100 people are scheduled for appointments at the Hilo and Kona VRL offices each day. The Hilo office typically has three or four clerks available at the desk for renewing vehicle registrations, while the desk for renewing driver’s licenses has two or three.

In Kona, meanwhile, O’Dell said there are typically about four trainees working at any given time and two or three fully trained employees.

O’Dell said the division has hired additional staff to manage the high volume of cases, but the necessary training for those employees takes about six months.

Furthermore, she said, the closure of schools has affected her employees’ availability, with many having to leave work to care for children at home.

There is light on the horizon, however. O’Dell said she believes COVID restrictions may loosen soon enough to allow more employees in the office at once, allowing them to serve more people per day.

She added that, beginning in March, the division will return to administering in-vehicle road tests instead of the modified skills tests that replaced them in August — however, test-takers will be required to keep a mask on at all times and pass a health screening.

O’Dell advised that, while some offices may take walk-ins when an appointment fails to show up, residents should make appointments as early as they can.

People who only need to renew their vehicle registration can still do so at Hawaii DMV Now kiosks located at the Hilo and Waimea DMVs, the Hilo Safeway and the Waimea Foodland.

Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation earlier this month once again pushed back the expiration dates for driver’s licenses, permits and state identification. Any of those documents which would have expired after March 16, 2020, will still be valid until April 13 of this year.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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