There’s a virtual traffic jam for people needing a road test to get a Utah driver license

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A long line of cars at the South Valley DMV in Draper on April 10, 2020.

Ever complain about long lines at the Utah Driver License Division? Guess how many people are now in a virtual line awaiting an in-person road test because of delays from COVID-19 restrictions?

“We have, as of this moment, 14,681 people who have requested that,” Chris Caras, director of the division, told the Legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee on Wednesday.

“I’m just using that to illustrate that there is a delay for some of our services associated with the backlog that was created, and we’re doing our best to be creative and adapt,” he said.

After reports of delays of up to 8 hours in lines at the Division of Motor Vehicles (operated by the Utah State Tax Commission) and halting all new-driver road tests for months at the Driver License Division (operated by the Department of Public Safety), lawmakers asked to hear explanations and what steps are being taken to improve situations.

“It’s impossible to social distance in a car. So we had to temporarily suspend driving skills tests,” Caras said.

That delayed for months many new drivers — especially teenagers — from finishing the process to obtain a new driver license.

“That was collateral damage. But it was the only thing we could do to get through the process and be in compliance” with state COVID-19 restrictions, Caras said. “We’ve since reinstituted that service as of the first of June, but there is a significant backlog there.” He said his division is trying to handle the problem by extending service hours.

Scott Smith, executive director of the tax commission, said its Division of Motor Vehicles — which handles car registration and license plates — tried to move more of its services online during COVID-19 restrictions, but some still had to be handled in person.

With its indoor offices closed because of COVID-19, lines for drive-up services stretched for blocks and hours.

Still, Smith said the state managed to handle more than 9,000 more registration renewals that it did in a similar period last year. “What that shows to me is that people were able to renew their vehicles during this time period,” he said.

But new registrations were down by more than 33,000 in the period. He said delays have largely disappeared as DMV offices reopened as COVID-19 restrictions eased.

Smith said the experience has DMV looking at allowing more services online, which may help prevent future problems.

“There were some issues with signing that technology has kind of caught up with. So we’re looking and we think we can do that now within the current statutes,” he said — but warned some services will still require in-person visits.

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