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A new direction: Driver's license program gets overhaul

Staff Photo: Erin Evans
 Priscilla Shivers of Conyers checks out the information on her interim driver¬ís license to make sure it is correct. License examiner Willie Heard, a six-year DDS employee, was among the first examiners in the state to implement the new program when the Conyers service center was selected as one of three sites to go live with the program last week. 

Staff Photo: Erin Evans Priscilla Shivers of Conyers checks out the information on her interim driver¬ís license to make sure it is correct. License examiner Willie Heard, a six-year DDS employee, was among the first examiners in the state to implement the new program when the Conyers service center was selected as one of three sites to go live with the program last week. 

COVINGTON — Things changed last week at the Georgia Department of Driver Services. After more than a year of preparation, it instituted a program that revamps the entire driver's license system, one that is designed to ensure enhanced customer service and a more secure document, according to DDS Commissioner Greg Dozier.

"We're an interesting agency," Dozier said. "A lot of folks look at us as just providing a document to drive, but we really are the gateway to the community whether you're wanting benefits or a tag and title for your vehicle. Just about everybody asks for that license so the integrity of our product every year elevates, and since the 9/11 attack it has really elevated."

Dozier said it has been 16 years since changes have been made to the Georgia driver's license. Ideally, the document should be revamped about every five years.

"What the customer sees is just that new card, but what we did was look at the process and how we can make it more efficient," Dozier said. " ... we knew we had to have a new system because the one we were using was way outdated."

He said the new system has fully integrated the various steps required to obtain a drivers license with a computerized customer file linked to all driver's services locations. That file will contain everything from proof of birthdate to photo to payment of fees.

The process of obtaining a license at the service locations can all be accomplished at one station by one license examiner — the former system required going to several windows for each need.

"Today, you're going to go to that one window, and we're going to be able to process you completely, and you'll walk away with an interim license. In probably about 10 days, you'll get your permanent license (in the mail)," Dozier said.

He said this flexibility among personnel has required pulling employees off their usual positions for training purposes, but he said it paid off Tuesday when the new system went live for the first time in Conyers, Covington and Locust Grove.

"Five years ago, we were averaging a 28-minute wait for customers statewide," he said, pointing out to reach that average there were some places in the state where the wait was an hour and others where the wait was much shorter. "Our record low about a year and a half ago was six minutes statewide. Now, we're back up to about 10 minutes, and that's due to the impact of staffing and also pulling people out to train."

He said although there have been no layoffs at the DDS due to budget constraints, statewide it has not filled about 90 positions and the agency is now taking mandated furlough days, both of which have had an effect on customer service.

"We've had to crosstrain everyone. We're going to have a little bump in the next few months as people take the skill set they've learned and apply it," he said.

Employees are enthusiastic about the new program and say they're already feeling more confident using it.

"Tuesday was our real first test. We were slammed, and I'm sure our numbers won't look great, but I was real proud. I came out here (in the customer service area at the Conyers location where DDS headquarters is also located) about five or six times to see how things were going. The customers were real patient, and the examiners were doing a really good job and were really focused. By Wednesday, they were really clicking through it."

As for security, Dozier said that each license has a minimum of 16 security features, some of which are known only to law enforcement.

"It's going to be much more difficult to counterfeit," he said. "I'm not going to say it can't be done because we'll always see somebody come up with something to do it. Today, you can buy the stuff off eBay to reproduce a license ... if you look at the fraudulent cards, they look very real. In the future, I think you'll see people trying to duplicate it, but it will be very difficult."

The new card has a unique color scheme.

"If people try to use a sophisticated copier, it copies at a darker color," he said.

For people under 21, the license is printed vertically, making it easier for store owners to identify those attempting to illegally purchase tobacco or alcohol products.

And if you didn't like your driver's license picture before, there will now be three photos not to like on the new license — two color photos put on the document before the lamination process and one black and white "ghost" portrait that will be laser engraved on top of the laminate.

Overlapping data, such as signatures and birthdates, will also be security features on the new document, making it more difficult to copy.

Also, Dozier said the new cameras produce a much clearer image, which is placed on preprinted designs using lines and colors that are difficult to reproduce.

Another security measure calls for each customer to obtain an interim license, which will be good for up to 45 days while their documentation, photo and other factors are double checked before issuing the permanent license.

Now, Georgia residents will be able to obtain the new licenses when their old one expires or they need to have it replaced for any reason. But because of the federally mandated laws connected with the Real ID Act of 2009, changes may be afoot.

"We are changing to an eight-year license instead of a 10-year license," he said, adding that the Real ID Act requires an eight-year renewal and the state wants to be in line with that.

Dozier said his agency has met with trade associations as well as law enforcement agencies to acquaint them with the new look of the Georgia driver's license.

"We know we're going to have someone turned away because somebody doesn't know what the new license is, but we've done just about all we can do as far as working with the associations," he said.

Georgia residents can still go to www.dds.ga.gov for information on replacing a lost license, change of address and to make renewals from information received from the DDS office. Information about hours, locations and closings is also on the site.

New licensing procedures will go into effect in Atlanta, Lithonia and Lawrenceville this week, and every center will be up and running with the new program by the end of the year.