Crowds surged Tuesday at Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) offices as anxious motorists arrived at sunrise and waited hours to take their written driving tests, long postponed by the state’s stay-at-home order issued in late March.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reportedly reopened 14 of its DVS offices across the state, resuming driving knowledge tests and accepting applications for driver’s licenses. Behind-the-wheel testing will resume Tuesday with priority given to the more than 13,000 people who had their exams canceled due to the stay-at-home order.
The line at the Arden Hills DVS office Tuesday morning snaked around the building and onto adjacent lawns, inching forward every few minutes. Some in line wore masks but many did not. People appeared to be trying to space themselves out, but still stood close enough for casual conversation.
Gov. Tim Walz declared that all driver’s licenses and ID cards that expired during the peacetime emergency were still valid and gave people extra time to get them renewed. Most of those in line were waiting to take their written exam.
Maggie Miles, a teenager, and her mom, Lori Janies, drove from Minneapolis just after sunrise to Arden Hills so Maggie could take her permit test. They arrived around 7:45 a.m. and were still waiting in line at 10 a.m., with nearly 50 people still ahead of them.
“We were expecting a line but we thought we’d be early. Guess not,” Janies said.
She added that she felt a mix of emotions: resignation, frustration, “but happy this is available at all,” noting that motor vehicle offices near them were still shut down.
DVS officials had anticipated the crowds and pent-up demand for testing. They issued a statement thanking Minnesotans for their patience “during this uncertain and stressful time,” and said they had been working hard to find a safe and fair way to resume services.
“We are prioritizing the needs of Minnesotans who couldn’t take their knowledge or road test during the past several weeks by allowing … exam station staff to focus on testing services,” according to the statement from DVS Director Emma Corrie.
Outside the Arden Hills DVS office, Don Ristow sat in a camp chair smoking a cigarette while waiting near the end of the line on the sun-splashed morning. Ristow, of Forest Lake, said he needed to take the motorcycle written permit test; since he had the day off and the weather was nice, he figured he’d wait.
“I am just lounging, getting some vitamin D and trying to keep a smile on my face,” he said.
College student Ashley Healy arrived at 8 a.m. to renew her license and was still in line two hours later. She was on the phone trying to figure out if she could find someone to cover her 11:30 a.m. work shift at a local sandwich shop.
DVS officials say they were following the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines on social distancing and sanitizing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That included wellness screenings for staffers and customers, and social distancing inside buildings. Plexiglass was installed at counters to provide a barrier between customers and exam staffers.
DVS staffers wore gloves and masks inside exam stations, and recommended that customers wear face masks as well. Masks will be required of people taking class D road tests.
DVS exam stations in Arden Hills, St. Paul and Mankato are offering a virtual lobby, allowing people to check in when arriving in order to get a text message when it’s their turn at the counter.
It’s a pilot program and it was unclear how well it was working Tuesday.
Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report.