Hawaii drivers may soon be able to forget about long lines and skip the months-in-advance scheduling process that often comes with renewing a driver’s license in Hawaii. 

Senate Bill 2105 and House Bill 1429 would allow driver’s licenses to be renewed online. Those measures are part of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s legislative package and would make in-person renewals required only after two consecutive online renewals. 

“It’s so much of a headache, and it’s such a hassle for people,” Sen. Chris Lee said of the renewal process. “They couldn’t find time to either wait in line, or in person all day for just a chance to get it renewed.”

Customers stand at the windows at the Kapalama Driver License Center.
Waiting in line at a licensing center may be a thing of the past under SB 2105. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

The Senate Transportation Committee, which Lee chairs, plans to take a preliminary vote on SB 2105 on Thursday. 

Complaints from Hawaii drivers who face long waits to get a license renewed have only grown since the pandemic began. 

Lee said that many are surprised that an online system hasn’t been implemented earlier. 

Forty-one states already have online driver’s license renewal options in place, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

But there’s concern that an online system would bypass the government’s current control checks, according to Ed Sniffen, the state Department of Transportation’s deputy director for highways. 

He added that his biggest concern is that the city has yet to develop an adequate system for determining whether an individual is fit to drive. 

“We’re just asking for more time,” Sniffen said during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. “We’ve seen too many times in the past where people had come in with their doctor’s notes to say that they’re good, but the staff had recognized deficiencies in either their vision or their ability to move.”

Kim Hashiro, the deputy director of the  City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Customer Services, has a more optimistic view. 

“Clearly our driver licensing centers and satellite city halls would face some immediate challenges,” Hashiro said in a written statement. “However, we are prepared to work closely with our Department of Information Technology to overcome the foreseen challenges by developing a system with appropriate technologies to allow us to effectively do transactions without exchanging a physical document.”

Last year, the city’s Department of Customer Services processed more than 87,000 license renewal applications, according to the city’s written testimony.

Hashiro also noted that implementing this system would not only relieve drivers of a trip to the driver licensing center or satellite city hall, but it would also help workers to serve those in need of other services more quickly.

Lee, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, decided to put off any decision on SB 2105 until Thursday. He noted the DOT’s concerns and said that delaying a vote would allow time for the city to come up with a way to measure drivers’ health.

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