Public safety officials tout new license option

By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — In 2009, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety launched an attack on long lines at driver license renewal stations with self-service kiosks.

There are now 29 of kiosks, which operate similar to automated bank teller machines, at driver services’ offices around Mississippi. There are also two stand-alone machines at courthouses in Yazoo and Harrison counties.

Officials didn’t stop there. They put more employees and examiners at the license centers to speed up the process. They urged more people to go online to renew licenses.

Beginning Oct. 1, motorists can buy eight-year driving licenses. A new state law will make it an option to the regular four-year licenses. The Legislature passed the law this year.

Other states offer similar options to motorists.

Connecticut (four or six years), Georgia (five or 10 years) and New Mexico (four to eight years) allow drivers to choose the length of a license. In South Carolina and Colorado, a driver’s license is good for 10 years. In Arizona, a license is good until a motorist turns 65, then the license must be renewed every five years.

Public Safety Department spokesman Jon Kalahar said every step taken in Mississippi thus far is part of an ongoing plan to make license renewals less frustrating.

However, Kalahar said the eight-year license can only be bought at driver service centers. He said motorists going online can only buy a four-year license.

“The eight-year license can only be done at the counter for right now,” he said. “We have to see who comes in for the eight-year license and how popular it becomes. After we see that, we may want to tweak the program later.”

State Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, who filed the bill that became law, said convenience is the issue.

“The biggest complaint I get is people having to wait in line to renew their driver’s license,” said Stringer, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Stringer said the state will save money in the long run because MDPS will take license photos half as often for the 8-year licenses. He joked that constituents will be happier, too, because they can have younger-looking license photos, longer.

“My mother is 84, and she wanted an 8-year license,” Stringer said.

Kalahar said it is too early to tell whether the new license option will save money.

“We will run a cost analysis once we see how many people are obtaining the 8-year license. Right now, it’s about saving people time in our lines and not having to come back as often,” he said.

Kalahar said many people will like the license because “they won’t have to come to the building as much. For people who have to get there, it keeps the lines a little shorter.”

He said people in rural areas, who have to drive a long distance to get to a license station, would not have to do so as often.

In Mississippi, a four-year license costs $21. The eight-year license will cost $43.

Mississippi’s neighboring states have similar fees.

Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana have four-year licenses. In Tennessee, the licenses are good for five years. Tennessee’s licenses cost $19.50. In Alabama, the cost is $23.50 and in Arkansas, $20. In Louisiana, drivers pay $24.50 until they reach 70, when the license costs $15.50.