The in basket: Matt McMillen, co-owner of 911 Driving School in Port Orchard, asked me in an e-mail, “Are you aware that starting Dec. 1, the Department of Licensing is allowing local driving schools to administer the written and driving tests in order to obtain a drivers license?
“At 911 Driving School, we have been doing the written test since 2010, but the driving test is a huge jump! I think this would be an informative article for your readers. There may be a lot of confusion and questions when the transition happens.”
The out basket: No, I was not aware of that. I hadn’t gotten even a whiff of this happening. So I asked the state DOL about it.
Christine Anthony of DOL replied that this has been going on in King County since Oct. 1, pursuant to a new state law.
“This is a big change in the way we do business and it will remove one of the most time-consuming transactions people have to do in our offices,” said DOL Director Alan Haight in a September news release I hadn’t seen. “It also will reduce wait times for other customers who must come into an office.”
They decided to start in King County, where the waits have been the longest, and set a Dec. 1 date for going statewide, including here. They stopped the written and driving portions of the exams in two King County offices in October.
Christine says driving schools have to apply to do the tests, and so far 911 is the only Kitsap school to do so. State-certified public school driver training programs and motorcycle schools also are eligible.
You don’t have to be a student of the driving school to take the tests, Christine said
All schools qualified by Dec. 1 will be listed by then on the DOL Web site.
Written and driving testing will continue in the DOL offices here as well as at the driving schools for the time being. But the objective is clearly to free up DOL employees for other duties the offices perform and reduce wait times for those services.
No DOL employees are losing their jobs due to the new program, she said.
911 Driving School has been doing the written tests since 2010 under a pilot program that preceded passage of the law that expanded it to the driving skills portion of the test.
In determining what existing DOL offices will continue giving the tests, Christine said, “we are looking at several factors including testing demand, the number of licensed driver training schools in the vicinity, and how far customers would have to travel to take a test. The legislation allows us to continue testing in one licensing service office in each of our eight districts, so we will work toward that direction.”
It will cost more to take the tests at a driving school, but DOL thinks the added convenience will be worth it.
“The DOL fees will be still be charged,” Christine said, “as required by state law. We believe the increased access to a variety of testing times and locations will be of value to our customers. We have customers now who wait weeks and sometimes months to get into a licensing service office for a drive test.
“Drive training schools can offer tests anytime, not just the hours kept by one of our offices. Also, for customers who are enrolled in a traffic safety education course, many schools roll the test cost into the package price.”
Matt, a State Patrol officer whose partner, Joi Haner, also is an officer with the State Patrol, says 911 will charge $15 for the written test and $35 for the driving test in the applicant’s car. Add $20 to use one of their cars. For $80, you can get a 30-minute warm-up drive before taking the driving test.
Applicants will still have to pay DOL the $35 application fee and, when approved for a license, $45 for the five years the license will be good for.