Roger Barbee: DMV officials need to see what it’s like in local offices

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

I recently spent three hours in the Mooresville DMV, when and where I had some personal opinions supported by observations.

First of all, no empathy for me is deserved because my visit was a result of my own negligence — I had allowed my driver’s license to expire and since I wear glasses to correct my vision, a woman in Raleigh told me that I could not renew on-line. After she also informed me that appointments were already booked until late May and even into early June, I gathered myself and trudged to the local Patterson Street DMV branch.

Explaining to the woman behind the desk why I was there, she gave me a ticket with the number I-731 and told me that it would be a long wait. However, not having much of a choice, I gathered myself for my self-imposed stint. The television screen showing called numbers, recipes, information related to vehicle accidents (38% of vehicular accidents involve alcohol), and various trivia soon bored me, so I began people watching and listening—eavesdropping even.

Hearing the woman who had given me I-731 tell multiple folks that the branch was no longer taking walk-in customers gave me some relief because it appeared that I was the last one so lucky. They all were told to call the 919 number displayed at her desk for an appointment in late May or early June or appear the next morning at 7:15 to 7:30 to get a place in line for a walk-in number. All the while I scanned the television screen and saw many appointment numbers called, but the walk-in number seemed to be stuck at I-726, so close and so much more self-imposed misery to go. However, an exchange between a customer and a worker grabbed me out of my stupor.

The middle-aged woman tried to explain her problem to a worker, who was now out of sight, sitting at her cubicle. The middle-aged lady’s voice rose a few decibels when she heard that no more walk-ins were being taken. As the lady began to explain her problem to the worker, the clerk politely said, “I don’t understand your question.” The customer said in a harsh tone, “You’re rude” and stormed away, while repeating at each step, “There’s no reason to be rude!”

“Have a nice day,” the worker said to her receding back, and a woman sitting next to me mumbled to no one but everyone, “Never been to a DMV, I guess.” Before too long my number was called, I went to Station 1 and passed the eye test, then waddled home with my current driver’s license.

As I review the three hours spent in the DMV, I appreciate more and more the polite professionalism of the staff on Patterson Street. Every exchange I heard between staff and customers was patient and informative. What I witnessed and experienced was trained workers dealing with myriad issues and temperaments. I applaud the staff at Patterson Street; however, I wonder who in Raleigh makes life so cumbersome for citizens and workers who service them.

For instance, if the reservation system is so backed up that a person must wait at least two months for an appointment, why not find some relief for everyone. I mean, what does a person who works an hourly wage do if he or she must arrive at 7:15 in the morning to be given a slot and then wait for however long?

Could not our elected leaders make more of the process involving vehicles computer friendly. My license, for example, states that I must wear corrective lenses, so why could I not simply agree that that is still my situation on an on-line service? It seems to me that with the available technology, some of the burden placed on local DMV workers and their clientele could be lessened. It seems the bureaucrats in charge want to continue using manual labor to move boulders when there is available machinery to do such work.

However, to be impolite to DMV workers strikes me like being ugly to any worker in a bureaucracy. They, after all, are only small clogs dealing face to face with citizens caught in the same wheels. Because of inefficient thinking or cold indifference, many of us are caught in an antiquated system that every lawmaker and politician should be forced to deal with as ordinary folks must do.

Let’s require every governor and DMV director to walk in or phone in to his or her local DMV to renew a driver’s license or obtain a Real ID. Then let us hope that as they sit in the waiting room waiting, watching and listening maybe each one will learn from his or her citizens. After all, it does not have to be this way.

Roger Barbee lives in Mooresville. Contact him at