published Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Drivers revved up over license renewal

North Georgia resident Kenneth Brinson, 48, talks about getting turned away from the Georgia Department of Driver Services #41, in Rock Spring. Brinson had posted mail from Medicare in his hand that should have been good enough for proof, he said.
North Georgia resident Kenneth Brinson, 48, talks about getting turned away from the Georgia Department of Driver Services #41, in Rock Spring. Brinson had posted mail from Medicare in his hand that should have been good enough for proof, he said.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Gary Mitchell thought renewing his Georgia driver's license would cost $20 and would be easy.

Instead, the Fort Oglethorpe man spent two hours in line Thursday at the Department of Driver Services office in Rock Spring, followed by a trip to the Walker County Health Department in LaFayette to spend $25 for a certified birth certificate, and then back to Rock Spring for another two hours Friday.

"It cost me about $75 to get my license," Mitchell figured, once he added in the unexpected cost of the birth certificate and gas for extra travel.

"I've just been here aggravating," he said, while standing outside the driver services office Friday to warn new arrivals what lay in store.

Long lines formed this week at driver services offices around the state as drivers were caught unaware by new requirements that took effect July 1. To get a new "secure" Georgia license, drivers now need to renew their license in person, not online, and bring at least four documents from an approved list.

The secure ID card program is meant to comply with the Federal Real ID Act of 2005, which adopted the recommendations of the 911 Commission.

Susan Sports, spokeswoman for the Department of Driver Services, said the agency has advertised the new requirements in ads on radio, online and in newspapers.

"We have been doing extensive public outreach," she said. "We understand that there are people that don't do research before they get their driver's license."

On Friday, the agency also started sending postcards with information about the new documentation needs to drivers whose licenses are up for renewal.

"It's just being started," Sports said. "So that will help in the future."

Drivers who already have licenses but lack the proper documentation will get four-month temporary licenses, she said.

Many of the drivers lined up Friday afternoon in Rock Spring questioned the need for all the ID.

"I've had a Georgia license for 23 years, and I have to bring a birth certificate? It's crazy," said Sandi Varnell, of Trenton, Ga.

She said she renewed her license online in June and even got a confirmation number, but then was told to come in person.

"They never sent my license," Varnell said.

Kenneth Brinson, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., was given a temporary license Friday. He didn't understand why the state agency wouldn't accept as proof of address a letter it had sent to his home.

"It's getting crazy in there, honestly," he said.

Kenneth Fletcher, of Ringgold, Ga., thought the requirement for certified birth certificates was "a revenue grab."

"Haven't I given them enough [identification] through the years?" asked Fletcher, who said his commercial driver's license shows his face in three places. "Ain't three pictures of me enough?"

Georgia redesigned its licenses in 2009 and added such features as ghost photos, a laser-engraved signature over the primary photo, a tamper-resistant coating and machine-readable barcodes. The new secure IDs will have a gold star in the upper right hand corner.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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