An influx of teen drivers hoping to schedule an appointment ahead of the implementation of new provisions on instructional permits added to a backlog throughout South Dakota.
As a result, Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order on Friday to suspend the implementation of Senate Bill 113 until driver's license exam stations can catch up. The bill was approved by Legislature and signed by Noem on March 30, but teens acted quickly in an attempt to beat the July 1 deadline.
South Dakota exam stations closed temporarily in mid-March due to COVID-19 with Mitchell reopening on May 18 -- while some did not reopen until June 15 -- it created a backlog and when they reopened by appointment-only, it has taken time to catch up. At this time a year ago, the state had issued 15,000 more licenses for the year.
“The driver’s license examiners across the state have been doing a tremendous job of trying to get all the kids in that wanted to apply for instruction permits,” South Dakota Driver Licensing Program Director Jane Schrank said. “But having to do it by appointment only right now due to COVID, it’s been a little bit of a struggle trying to make sure everyone gets an appointment as quickly as they want to. … It was a hardship on both the public and our staff trying to make sure everyone got in under the deadline.”
The new law changes the required length of time to hold an instruction permit for a car or motorcycle from 180 days to 275 days, while adding a requirement of 50 hours of supervised driving by a parent, including 10 hours in inclement weather and 10 hours at night.
It also extends the period in which a minor that has passed the driver’s education course must drive with an instruction permit from 90 to 180 days. The age for a mandatory restricted minor’s permit also raises from 16 to 18 years old and prohibits passengers outside immediate family members for the first six months on a restricted permit and to one non-family member during the next six months.
There is no definitive timetable on when SB 113 will eventually be implemented, but there is a delay until the end of the emergency declaration by Noem, which currently ends on Dec. 31. Licenses that have expired since March also have until the end of the year to be renewed.
Currently, there has also been no determination on when exam stations will return to normal operation, where foot traffic is permitted and driver’s permit tests are once again first-come, first-serve. Schrank expects the “a few months” to pass before exam stations around the state can make up the backlog.
“With using appointments, the public doesn’t have to wait for long periods of time,” Schrank said. “The examiners are able to handle each customer, so it’s actually going well. We are going to try to work in more appointments to see if we can make up this backlog that we have.”
Some stations issued appointments prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there has been increased discussion of implementing them throughout the state, albeit in a more efficient manner and during a time where they are not swarmed with extra appointments.
“We will be discussing that as time goes on,” Schrank said. “... It very well may be that we push more towards using appointments rather than having a first-come, first-serve. We’ll always have a place for people in emergency situations. We’ll never completely get rid of walk-in traffic, but I think appointments are much more efficient.”