Dysfunctional DVS Does It Again with Driving Test Backlog Projected to Hit 110,000

The Department of Driver and Vehicle Services long ago became the symbol for what’s wrong with government delivery of services. DVS had probably already eclipsed the post office as the epitome of mediocrity before MNLARS. But the vehicle registration meltdown that’s spanned nearly a decade cemented the agency’s reputation for ineptitude for a new generation of Minnesotans.

But that doesn’t mean DVS isn’t still working on it. The latest example involves what should be the routine task of taking a road test to obtain a driver’s license but has become a survival of the fittest sort of experience that’s led some residents to crisscross the state to find a DVS facility with an opening.

State road testing centers already faced heavy criticism from citizens thanks to a long waiting list and severe shortage of capacity to meet customer demand.

The coronavirus shutdown only exacerbated the backlog, resulting in even bigger headaches for those hoping to get behind the wheel any time soon, according to the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) on Friday will begin the daunting process of rescheduling behind-the-wheel exams for would-be drivers whose road tests were canceled when most state services shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

DVS scrubbed more than 13,000 driving exams during the eight weeks Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-home order was in effect, further stressing the testing system that had struggled to keep up even before COVID-19. Before the pandemic, wait times often reached 60 days or more and exam stations were so full that many people booked appointments in distant places to get in.

On top of the canceled appointments, the DVS is bracing for a new surge of applications as long lines formed at service centers that on Tuesday resumed knowledge tests and accepting applications for driver’s licenses. The agency estimates it will need to give more than 111,500 road exams by the end of the year as it makes up missed tests and accommodates demand from new applicants seeking Class D and commercial licenses, according to a DVS memo released last week.

Wisconsin and other states have temporarily forgone the requirement for a road test in a gesture to consumers. But no such luck on the Minnesota side of the border where the situation appears headed from bad to worse.

It’s all been frustrating for Angela Vanden Busch’s 16-year-old daughter, who had an appointment scheduled in April before it was called off.

“My daughter was really excited to take her road test as all of her friends already have their licenses, and they’ve been driving her around for more than a year,” said the south metro resident. “She’s very unhappy. She could have had her license by now, which I’m sure is how a lot of other kids are feeling. This issue is not just affecting 16-year-olds; there are adults who also need to take road tests.”

The Minnesota Senate saw this coming, passing a bill to allow private centers to conduct tests to reduce the backlog, patterned after legislation enacted last session for bus drivers.

“The legislature passed a similar bill last year to allow third party testing for school bus drivers,” said Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s  Point, sponsor of the bill in a news release. “According to those in the industry, it has been a ‘grand slam’ and ‘gone are the 2-3 week wait time to get a driver tested’. There is no reason we cannot do something similar for the Class D license – especially as the department projects the backlog will grow to 111,500 outstanding tests by December.”

But the measure hit a dead end in the DFL-controlled Minnesota House. That may be one of the only reasons to hope for a special session next month, by which time lawmakers will have gotten an earful from parents and students literally being driven crazy by ourdysfunctional DVS .