In late 2010, shortly after then Governor-Elect Bill Haslam asked me to serve as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, I sat down with then Governor Phil Bredesen, whose second term was coming to an end. I asked him for an overview of the department, and he told me in no uncertain terms that the biggest challenge I would face would not be the Highway Patrol or Homeland Security. It would be the Driver Services Division. He was correct.
This administration has focused on improving what is to a large degree the face of state government. Some 4.6 million Tennesseans hold valid driver licenses or identification cards. Most citizens will interact with a driver services examiner numerous times during their lifetimes.
Just last year, our driver services centers handled more than 1.7 million transactions for driver licenses and identification cards. Over the years, the General Assembly has added non-driving responsibilities to the division, including issuance of photo IDs for voters, handling gun permit applications, and providing and accepting voter registration applications.
It has been our top priority to improve customer service at driver services centers across the state. It is one of our department's primary operational goals to reduce the wait times for customers who need to visit a driver services center to complete a transaction. With that goal in mind, we want to encourage citizens to use options other than over-the-counter service at a driver services centers for simple transactions that can be completed in other manners. The banking industry has been doing this for years, encouraging customers to use ATMs and online banking for simple transactions and only coming inside the bank for more complicated business.
To help divert traffic out of our driver services centers, we have several options for citizens when it is time to renew their driver licenses:
• Renew by mail. Simply send back the renewal form we send out some 12 weeks in advance with the renewal fee payment.
• Renew online. Customers may renew any time, day or night, from the comfort of their homes or offices at www.tn.gov/safety. It is safe and convenient. Remember, citizens can only renew a Tennessee driver license at this address.
• Visit a self-service kiosk. We have installed 40 self-service machines, similar to bank ATMs, at various locations throughout the state. You can renew or replace a lost driver license at these kiosks. They accept credit and debit cards for payment and even take photographs. In the Memphis area, you can find self-service kiosks at several Memphis Police Department precinct locations, the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, the Shelby County Clerk's Office east location, Germantown City Hall, and each of the Memphis driver services center locations. Visit www.tn.gov/safety for a complete list.
• County Clerk partners. We have established partnerships with 40 county clerk partners across Tennessee, including the Shelby County Clerk, to offer alternate locations to renew or replace driver licenses.
If you do visit a driver services center, you may decrease your wait time by starting the renewal process at one of the iPad kiosks located near the front of the center. After entering your renewal and payment information, your photo will be taken and you will soon be on your way.
Last year, we installed new scanners and cameras in each of our centers, which require less paperwork, have improved efficiency, and have enhanced security. The new equipment allowed us to implement a new process called "central issuance" in which driver licenses are sent by mail to the citizen's home. (Citizens leave the driver services center with a temporary paper license.)
We are using a new line-queuing system in a pilot phase at two centers in middle Tennessee in which customers may start their wait from home logging onto a computer or texting through a cell phone, virtually eliminating any wait at the centers. If successful, we will implement this queuing system in other high volume centers.
In 2015, the Driver Services Division will start using a new computer system that is replacing an outdated 30-year-old system and will bring us up-to-date with other states in how we issue driver licenses.
We understand fully the importance of providing professional and efficient service to our customers, the citizens of our state. We make no excuses for those times we fail to do so. Tennesseans deserve good service when visiting a state driver services center. We are striving to provide that kind of service. We have no higher priority.
Bill Gibbons, is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.