With Less Staff to Renew Driver’s Licenses, Georgia Pivots to Machines
- Driver’s license tests and renewals are getting a boost in Georgia with automated technology.
- The new tech aims to offset a 60% loss in customer service staff at DDS offices since 2018.
- Upcoming license expirations could drive up DDS customer wait times in the next few years.
More Georgians are getting their driver’s licenses without having to wait in frustrating lines or even interact with another human. A big reason why is the huge number of workers who quit the state Department of Driver Services (DDS) during the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the DDS to bring in machines.
DDS lost 60% of its customer service staff who handle license renewals and run its help hotline since 2018, state personnel records show.
There were about 270 customer service representatives that year. Now, there are less than 110.
There’s also been a revolving door for ride-along driver examiners, who conduct license tests for new motorists and commercial truck drivers. Out of today’s roughly 450 examiners, only one-third were on staff in 2018. The rest are newer hires.
To avoid a crisis, DDS officials are pivoting to new technology that lets Georgia drivers renew licenses or replace lost permits on their own – without needing to visit an office. The new tech includes self-serve kiosks for renewing licenses, dash cams to do virtual driving tests and automated voice “bots” to field questions for the agency’s busy call center.
“We want to give people every opportunity to be served,” said DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore in a recent interview with State Affairs. “And increasingly, we have a public that wants to be served at their convenience.”
Why It Matters
Nearly 4 million Georgians last year tapped DDS for new or updated licenses, of whom more than 70% were served in-person at the agency’s 67 offices throughout the state.
Workers at call centers also fielded hundreds of thousands of calls from Georgians seeking help with renewals or to obtain driving records.
The new technology at DDS isn’t just for giving short-handed staff some help. It also aims to head off a potential rise in wait times once a round of license expirations kicks in over the next two years.
DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore (left) watches Gov. Kemp sign the 2022 state budget in Atlanta. (Credit: Georgia Department of Driver Services)
Officials say wait times have been down lately after DDS extended expiration dates for driver’s licenses from 5 years to 8 years in 2012. That’s helped relieve some of the frustrations people have long felt over the need to take off work and wait in line to get their licenses.
“A big reason that the wait times are not suffering is that we are in a down cycle as far as expiration dates,” said Susan Sports, a DDS spokeswoman.
Georgians like Tony Britt have benefitted from the “down cycle.” An Atlanta resident, Britt was recently in and out of a DDS office in less than 30 minutes to get his license reinstated.
“It was good, really good,” Britt said outside a DDS office in downtown Atlanta earlier this month. “For as much as you hear bad things about (DDS) services, that was fantastic.”
Kiosks, Cams and Bots
First to roll out on the DDS technology line was the voice “bot” at the call center, which started in November 2021. Through January, the automated service had fielded more than 130,000 calls that normally would be handled by customer service workers. The bot alone helped nearly all those callers figure out what they needed, according to DDS.
Since December, thousands of new Georgia drivers have taken their road tests with a dash cam attached to the car and with a parent or another trusted adult sitting in the front seat, instead of a DDS examiner. With virtual testing, examiners watch drivers from a laptop or smart device.
Virtual tests are quickly becoming common. Around 13,200 would-be drivers took tests using dash cams in January, according to DDS. The next month, about 14,200 were tested virtually. That equaled 75% of all the road tests that were taken.
Now, DDS officials are gearing up to install dozens of self-serve kiosks in Kroger grocery stores across Georgia in the coming months. They’ll be able to process license renewals, replace lost or stolen licenses and pull driving records if you need them for a job.
Moore, who heads DDS, said the new technology aims to ease staff concerns over contracting COVID-19 while in close contact with customers, which has worsened turnover. The kiosks especially should help with the agency’s workforce issues, he said.
“If you have a self-service kiosk that is handling that renewal customer coming in, not having to take a break or a lunch or take vacation, it’s going to really offset some of those staffing challenges that we have,” Moore said.
DDS officials haven’t given up hope that they can hire more customer service staff and driver examiners before the upcoming increase in license expirations. They’re banking on $5,000 pay raises for state employees to help slow the turnover rate.
But that’s a lot to ask of low-paid staff whose salaries will still hover around $30,000 a year even with this year’s raises, Moore acknowledged.
“Undoubtedly, the front-line positions at DDS have not been high-wage positions,” he said. “It’s difficult to hire a person when retail is essentially paying the same amount.”
A DDS driver examiner conducts a road test at one of the agency's 67 offices. (Credit: Georgia Department of Driver Services)
Self-serve kiosks also bring security challenges for people plugging in personal information to verify their identities. Sports, the DDS spokeswoman, said the agency is still “working out these details” on kiosk safety and security.
Verifying drivers’ identities before handing them a license is also a key part of the job for DDS customer service workers, said Moore. Fewer staff makes it tougher to keep tabs on potential ID fraudsters.
“Because we know beyond that driving privilege, this is also going to give that individual a whole lot of other opportunities once they have an identity established,” Moore said. “We’re doing everything possible to make sure that the person who is getting the credential is the right person.”
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