Oklahoma
Oklahoma

FAST FACTS

  • Wait times for appointments at area tag agencies range from two weeks to two months.

  • There is no grace period for Oklahomans whose licenses are expiring or are expired, even if they are waiting for an appointment time.

  • The Elgin and Fletcher tag agencies will make in-person or by telephone appointments; however, Lawton tag agencies require appointments be made online.

  • There is a $4 fee to make appointments online at www.ok.tagagent.com/comanche.

Fast action on a request to ease the slow wait time to renew driver licenses and identification cards resulted in a recent executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt.

A bipartisan legislative group, including Lawton Republican Representatives Daniel Pae and Rande Worthen, signed the Tuesday, Feb. 9, letter to the governor asking for action to address what they called an “alarming issue.” Included with the letter were recommendations to be considered with implementation of the executive order. Gov. Stitt signed the mandate on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Although the intent of the order is to address challenges and lengthy wait times many Oklahomans are currently facing when trying to receive and renew driver’s licenses or update existing licenses to REAL IDs, a majority of area tag agency owners aren’t sure the logjam can easily be cleared for immediate results.

“We already have months-long wait times for appointments,” said Elgin Tag Agency owner Jenifer Dyer. “We can’t keep up and now we will also be doing CDL’s (Commercial Driver’s License). The tag agency isn’t open enough hours to process everything.”

The letter to the governor signed by more than 40 legislators acknowledged that “our tag agencies are overwhelmed” which they attribute to social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the high demand for REAL IDs. The lawmakers made the following four recommendations.

• Allow tag agents to renew, replace or downgrade a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The Dept. of Public Safety currently has to process all of them.

• Allow tag agents to issue an identification card if the person requesting the identification card has an existing state driver’s license file, even if the driver’s license is expired or suspended. Currently, the requesting person must have a valid driver’s license to receive an identification card from a tag agent.

• Allow third-party examiners (non-DPS CDL examiners) to test anyone with a CDL permit. Currently, they are only allowed to administer driving tests to their own students.

• Allow certain locations, such as Oklahoma Career Tech Centers, to administer driving knowledge written tests for Class D exams, with hopes to expand to CDL exams.

There is a long 15-year history between the REAL ID Act passed by the U.S. Congress and Oklahoma. Once the state received its last extension and began to install the needed system to process the more security-oriented IDs in 2020, the pandemic was already a major concern and a life changer and social distancing became protocol, allowing fewer people inside Department of Public Safety (DPS) or tag agency offices.

As of Oct. 1, 2021, there are no more extensions available and, among other requirements, a REAL ID will be needed to board domestic airplane flights. DPS Spokesperson Sarah Stewart said there is no grace period for Oklahomans whose licenses are expired or are expiring, even if they are waiting for an appointment time.

In addition, she told a state reporter that wait times for appointments are close to two months out and many locations that renew or issue licenses and identification cards aren’t taking walk-ins anymore.

“We were doing walk-ins only,” said Ms. Dyer of the Elgin Tag Agency, “until we were locally scolded because 15 to 20 people were waiting in our office. People were wearing masks. Where we used to be able to process 40 requests a day, it’s now down to about 15.” She doesn’t believe that Gov. Stitt’s executive order will help the processing time now that CDLs are added to the tag agency’s plate.

“It’s more work on us and less on DPS,” she said. “And, it doesn’t help when our computers are suddenly turned off with barely a 5-minute email notice. I’m concerned and don’t want to turn anyone away. It’s hard for us and frustrating for our customers.”

Frustration led to one Lawton business, the Motor Vehicle Tag Agency on Lee Boulevard, to opt out of issuing driver’s licenses and state identification cards last year when the new REAL ID system was set to be installed. Owner Jody Hargrove said they only process vehicle registrations. She said she made the change due to staff issues and long processing times of each license or ID.

“Yes, I opted out. It can take 20 minutes to one hour to do one,” Ms. Hargove said, “and I don’t want to be cussed out anymore.” Lawton-Fort Sill Tag Agency owner Nancy Davison said she doesn’t think customers understand that now it takes about the same amount of time to process a license or ID whether it is REAL ID compliant or not.

“It’s now the same process and procedure,” she said. “Same number of boxes to check and it’s not a 5-minute thing anymore. If the computer cooperates – it goes down a lot it can take 20 minutes just to process one. We used to process 60-100 requests a day; now it’s only 10-15 a day.

“I know DPS is overloaded,” Ms. Davison continued. “I drive by their office every day on my way to work. I see the line wrapped around the building.” She said her tag agency processed their first two CDLs on Friday, two days after Gov. Stitt’s executive order.

“We had to fight through it. We’re doing our best,” she said. Ms. Dyer of the Elgin Tag Agency agreed that the process isn’t going to be easy and is concerned about the CDL process. She said she received an 8-page email from the state and if any process questions arise, she will have to email the state back and there could be a 2- to 3-hour wait time in-between.

Wait times for appointments aren’t quite as long for tag agencies in more rural areas; however, Cindy Moser with the Fletcher Tag Agency said on Friday that the earliest available appointment was still about two weeks out – March 1. An employee at the Comanche County Tag Agency in Lawton said they are booked up into May.

“I know that it [Gov. Stitt’s executive order] will be better for the customer, and I don’t think it will make it that much harder for us,” Ms. Moser said. As of now, she doesn’t foresee any problems with processing CDLs. “If you don’t need a CDL anymore then why go to an exam station? Come here and we can downgrade you.”

Even with new guidelines in place, advice to navigate the process is straight forward. Plan ahead of your license expiration date. Don’t wait until the last minute