Driving schools could ease licensing burden

According to our spot check of the Department of Licensing website Tuesday afternoon, the wait time at the Kennewick office was 2 hours, 14 minutes.

In Bellevue it was 1 hour, 47 minutes. In Kent it was 46 minutes. In Spokane, the wait only was 3 minutes.

Our wait times might not always be the longest or last for more than two hours, but that wait isn't unusual. Tri-Citians who have visited the DOL lately probably have wished they had brought the morning paper (or possibly the unabridged Les Miserables).

So proposed legislation that would allow private driving schools to administer driving exams seems like an especially good idea.

It virtually is guaranteed to free up DOL workers to handle other office duties, speeding up wait times for everybody.

Washington already has a pilot program that allows students who pass their end-of-course exam to waive the written portion of the driving test.

There are limits. You have pass on the first time that you take the test and you have to get at least 80 percent.

But it seems to be working without any major hitches.

Extending this program to include the driving portion of the test is a natural progression.

New drivers still would be under the same criteria for passing the exam. You know the drill, backing around the corner, parking on a hill, parallel parking, navigating a school zone and other basic skills.

The people who teach in private driving schools already are required to have extra training to work with new drivers. This new duty wouldn't be much of a stretch.

The bill is making some headway in the Legislature. Even the DOL is supporting the idea. After all, shorter waiting times mean happier customers.

(Frequent two-hour waits probably prompted the sign behind the counter reminding patrons that it is a criminal offense to threaten DOL workers. Even normally patient people can get cranky after a couple of hours.)

There are lots of services offered at the DOL that can't easily be farmed out. In fact, not all DOL services are offered at all DOL offices. The smaller outlying offices, for example, don't offer enhanced driver's licenses. That data-sensitive information needs to be closely guarded and your driver's ed instructor shouldn't be taking on that task.

But while a handful of services need to be kept in the state's control and safeguarded, administering the driving test isn't one of them.

It's a good way to reduce the workload on the busier offices -- like the one in Kennewick -- and make better use of people already in the business of dealing with new drivers.