01/29/04 — Long lines

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Long lines

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 29, 2004 2:02 PM

Daniel Mar of Kinston waited 30 minutes out in the cold Wednesday, while his friend waited inside the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Goldsboro.

"I don't know how long the wait will be," he said. His friend was trying to get his driver's license. They had driven from Kinston, because Mar was told the Goldsboro office was staying open until 7 p.m. to accommodate the long lines.

He was the only one of the people in the line who could speak English. He already had his driver's license and had edged his car closer to the door as a vacant spot opened. Several others were sitting in their cars with the motors -- and heaters -- running.

Many of the people in lines at the DMV offices all over the state are trying to beat a deadline. Friday is the last day the DMV will accept Mexican identification cards and some other forms of identification for immigrants wanting driver's licenses.

The initiative is intended to keep criminals and terrorists from getting licenses. It has also created long lines and frayed nerves at DMV offices.

George Tatum, DMV commissioner, says he wishes he could say that everyone in the lines will be served, "but probably everybody who wants to be served this week can't."

"The weather has not been the most accommodating this week," said Tatum, who is based in Raleigh. "Some of our people are coming in early to try to serve as many people as they can."

The offices can't stay open past 7 p.m. because the national database the state ties into shuts down at that time. It's also shut down on weekends, and the offices can't stay open this weekend, he said.

Tatum said the division can't extend the deadline. Many examiners have been working 12-hour days, he added.

"We realize we'll have short-term pain for a long-term gain," he said. "No one who has had a member of their family become victim to identity theft will mind. Some say we should not have given this window of opportunity at all."

But he said the division has tried to be "as customer-service oriented as possible while still trying to protect the identities of the folks already in the data base. We realize it will be a strain on the system for these two days. But after the change is implemented, it will be more efficient for everybody, and that is our goal."

North Carolina is following the lead of several other states that have adopted the initiative, called Operation Stop Fraud, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bill Jones in the DMV public information office said some people who are in the long lines don't really have to be concerned about the deadline. If they're already in the system, he said, they're not affected by the new requirement. "It is only for those who are coming to the DMV for the first time."