SD’s driver’s license crisis

Minnesota has a lot of problems, but at least our citizens can get a driver’s license, right, South Dakota?

It’s a comparison of crises between the two states today. In Minnesota, political leaders are trying to come up with a framework for a special session to deal with disaster relief.

The neighbors to the west, however, have bigger fish to fry: There are lines for driver’s licenses.

Two years ago, the state started requiring everyone getting their licenses renewed to show either a birth certificate, passport or immigration documents, a Social Security card and two documents displaying a current address, the Argus Leader

How long can it take? Hours.

“This is our third time here,” Dianne May of Sioux Falls said Tuesday. “The first time we came at 11 o’clock and waited for three hours. We came back thinking if we came at 8 o’clock that would give us an hour to spare.”

She laughed briefly. “We’re back for the third time.”

Josh Winter of Sioux Falls was making his second appearance in the line Tuesday.

“I came yesterday and saw I could not afford to wait. So I came back today and factored into my schedule another couple of hours,” he said. “Thank God my work is flexible enough for me to take a few hours.”

It didn’t help that the state closed 15 offices.

But people are plenty upset, the newspaper editorial yesterday called for action and today the governor ordered the driver’s license stations to stay open until 7 pm and hire whatever’s needed to get rid of the lines.

Minnehaha County is threatening to evict the driver’s license station in its government building because of the noise from people waiting in line, many of whom had to bring their young kids with them.

  • Jim Shapiro

    That’ll sure keep them damn illegal Mexican speakers from trying to drive THERE. South Dakota already has ENOUGH problems with all them drunken injuns!

    Are there computers in South Dakota? If so, has the dmv ever considered establishing online appointment setting?

  • Loretta

    When my brother told me what all he has to provide and how long it took I couldn’t believe it. Ridiculous

  • matt

    All because we have this absurd belief that only the state can determine if people are safe drivers…which then gets the process wrapped up with politics and agendas of all manners…identification, donor status.

    Let the market certify drivers. Want insurance? You have to be certified. Want less expensive insurance? Get certified through SuperPicky Driving Company. If a certifying company performs poorly insurers will refuse to accept their certificates – they have no customer and go out of business (if a DMV issues licenses to people that go on to be poor drivers what is the penalty?). Will people not purchase insurance, therefore have no need for a certification and just drive anyways? Yes, they do now.

  • Kassie

    matt- it has nothing to do with driving. It has to do with identification as State IDs have the same requirements. Having the market certify drivers would not fix this in anyway.

  • Michele

    Thank you for this story.

    This situation seems like a teaching moment for considering the feasibility of voter id. If voter id passes how long will the voter lines be especially if you happen to reside in a densely populated precinct?

    The prevailing rhetoric about voter id is that since you need to show an id to get a library card (drivers license, whatever) you should need to provide same to vote. The distinction is that in national elections at least 40-50% of the adult population votes within a 12-14 hour time window. If SD can’t implement a workable positive id program for issuing drivers licenses how is this going to work when roughly 130 million (give or take) show to vote? And remember that about 80% of the US population now lives in urban or suburban areas.

    I would love to hear someone who supports voter id offer a plan for implementation, instead of continually attempting to fix a system that isn’t broken.

  • matt

    Kassie, it does have to do with driving because the story mentions drivers licenses about a bazillion times but does not mention identification once. The only way an ID card could get passed through the system was tying it to driving. This is why a national ID card fails, it can’t be tied to a “privelege” (ACA will open the door to create the national ID). Clearly having a social security card or other forms of official papers has nothing to do with driving, nor does putting your picture on a piece of paper (you don’t need your picture to hunt, fish, practice law, perform surgery…but somehow you need one to drive??). But in the end the people are pissed not because they don’t have identification – they are pissed because they can’t drive. Remove the state from licensing and these people would be pissed about having to stand in the line for the real reason they are standing in line. You could flip 80% of republicans on voter id if they had to show up at govt HQ every year or two to prove that they “belong” to the club. And they will definitely revolt when the national ID card is needed to get health care. The only way Americans accepted SS #’s was the bribe of being paid back with their own money…Uncle Sam got a tracking mechanism to make tax collections that much easier.

    If you can name something you can own it. Name, number, fingerprint, DNA tag and photograph your citizens and your control them all the more.

    I know it sound all chem-trail, tinfoil hat, and black helicopter but tying this to voting is just another step.

    I trust Obama, Dayton, the governor of South Dakota and everyone else today has the best interests of their people in mind…but I don’t trust that the guys in charge 20 years from now will use the power they have correctly. Take it back before it is used against you.

  • tboom

    If voter ID passes and if conservative politics wins the day, we’ll soon have the same policies.

  • B Joe


    I don’t understand. In your “let the market handle it” scenario, why would people buy insurance? If insurance is required to legally drive, who could enforce the requirement but the state? If the state is deciding who can drive, then we’re back where we started. If insurance isn’t required to legally drive, why would people buy insurance? I guess I don’t see how this would improve the average expertise of my fellow road warriors. I can also see the market-based solution leading to situations where personal wealth determines which horrible drivers get to keep driving, which to me seems like a step backward.

    I understand and sympathize with your complaints about the hijacking of driving privileges by special interest groups (i.e. Republicans pretending to care about election integrity). I just don’t see how your solution would improve much of anything.

  • jon

    Michele – While I agree that voter ID is a complete waste, I don’t think that it will end up creating the lines you are claiming it will at the voting booth, but it might well create them at the DMV.

    If voter ID passes you won’t be required to bring a birth certificate, and proof of residency… you’d only be required to have a photo ID that was issued to you after you proved those things. I.e. if you didn’t get your ID before the election, you won’t get to vote.

    Same day voter registration will basically be thrown out (because people registering on the same day generally vote democrat no loss to the party that pushed the amendment on the ballot).

    The law doesn’t validate that your address is correct (i.e. you are voting in the right precinct), the photo ID doesn’t need to state that you are eligible to vote, all it does is prove that you are who you say you are.

    If voter fraud is going on (which there is no evidence that it is on any significant scale) then this will do nothing to stop it. If it isn’t going on then this will be at best an inconvenience for most people, and at worst restrict the rights to vote of many disenfranchised voters who don’t have ID’s already, and don’t have birth certificates, etc. and will have to pay to collect the documents to get their “free” ID card. But it isn’t a poll tax because they have to pay for documentation, not for their right to vote, so it’s technically “legal” at least until the courts hear the arguments.

  • matt

    B Joe,

    I never stated the insurance should be required to drive, although it is a crime now. As of now it is enforced through checking for insurance when you are pulled over, in the past you were required to show proof of insurance when you renewed your tabs as well. I don’t know that we need anything more elaborate than that. For most people a car represents a sizable investment and they also recognize the huge liability that exists if they are in an accident. There are very natural reasons to buy insurance outside of the state requirement to do so.

    As for it improving the average expertise of drivers. There are already people choosing to accept a black box in their car to decrease insurance rates. It does not seem like a stretch to believe that they would accept more rigorous certifications standards, yearly refresher courses, elderly driving courses, etc. Some insurance companies are already providing this. If you have a company car you might be required to attend a driving school as well.

    Could personal wealth buy you driving priveleges? Sure. I don’t know that the biggest threat our state faces is rich people paying off driving certifiers. But again this would be handled by insurance rates, infractions raise your rates. It is possible that a rich person ends up not carrying insurance (this negates the fear of them paying off a certifier however) but who has the most to lose? Now that the criminal case has concluded I am sure the Sensor family is going to be looking at a civil suit that might cost them a restaraunt and some signed jerseys.

    There is a social benefit to capable and insured drivers as well and society uses the market to reward beneficial behavior – $.02 off a gallon of gas if you put your insurance fob against the pump at kwik trip when buying gas…an easy reward program that shows kwik trip cares about safe driving and you don’t have to clip a coupon. A reduction in your home insurance if you bundle with car insurance already exists.

    But again, the current system (as it works for most people) is a test at age 16 and then just show up every couple of years do a quick eye test and get your picture taken. No assesment of your driving abilities whatsoever. The market can improve the safety on the roads and then the govt can be evaluated more accurately on what their true intentions are.

  • Kassie

    I can’t imagine how ACA has opened the door to creating a national ID, but I’m sure matt will be able to tell me in six paragraphs.

    But the fact is that the same exact requirements are for both licenses and state IDs in South Dakota, even if the article doesn’t mention it. It isn’t about driving, it is about identification.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Matt – Kudos on the well articulated and persuasive arguments.

    In the end, however, me thinks the larger problem with government is bloated incompetence and self protection rather than sinister malice.

    Which is not to deny of course that there are some pretty malevolent characters that hide and operate within it’s walls. From police officers to Presidents.

    OK, you’ve convinced me. To the barricades! 🙂

  • matt

    @ Jim,

    On the bloated incompetence, agreed. Why at some point in the legislative process didn’t someone standup and say “why do we need all of this documentation in order to allow someone who was a legal driver yesterday to continue driving tomorrow?”


    People can, and do, get along without identification. If you don’t drive you could go for years without a govt issued identity card. The biggest hassle you will run into is flying or buying alcohol. So while I get the process is designed to affect identification it is affecting driving. So take driving out and let the market handle it – then we can get to the plain truth of the State asking for “papers please”. There is no legitimate reason for the state to be certifying drivers.

  • B Joe


    Under your solution, IDs would still be required. It would be unworkable if they weren’t. Say I get in an accident with someone. What stops me from lying to them about who I am? Say they call the cops to the scene of the accident, what stops me from lying to the cops? They can’t ask for ID; I don’t have an ID because I don’t need one to drive anymore. If I were behaving like a “rational actor” I’d just lie. I’d make up a name. Why wouldn’t I? The cops would have no recourse, because we’ve removed the oppressive state from the decision about who gets to drive (I’m assuming that cars don’t have licenses now either, because we’ve removed the state from deciding who gets to drive), and I’d save a ton of money by not having to pay for any damages.

    I know there are some things that the market is good at. However, I think that when it comes to letting the market handle roles that have been traditionally been the responsibility of government, the risk is that we end up trading one large, inflexible bureaucracy for a different large, inflexible bureaucracy with a profit motive. See: privatized prison systems. Certainly, the current system isn’t perfect, but I’m not quite sure how replacing it with something that will likely be almost identical – with the exception that now profit is a motivator – is going to make anything better.

    Plus, it seems like all of the market-based solutions you’ve brought up could be implemented now if the market so desired. But in some cases, the market clearly doesn’t desire. Gas stations aren’t going to cut into their already skim profits to incentivize people to drive safely because they have no reason to – there’s no money to be made in giving people discounts for things that don’t also add to your bottom line. With respect to insurance companies, they have been incorporating every little bit of useful info into their pricing models since the beginning and I suspect that the current licensure-based system hasn’t gotten in their way one bit.

    As for getting by without an ID, you’ve clearly not started a new job recently or tried to enroll a child in a new school district, or gotten married, or etc…

  • Matt

    B Joe,

    So how do police identify people for all non- driving offenses? By your logic anyone without a license is free to do as they please. But to your point identification could be provided without govt involvement.

    I never mentioned privatization, that is not the same as the free market. That is the same as govt just funneling money to one entity.

    Can the market provide these benefits now, yes. But because the state has the monopoly on licensure their is no need. As I spent the day at the Owatonna hospital today I walked through the atrium paid for by Federated Insurance, and sat in a lobby furnished via donations from Wenger Corporation. For profit businesses actually paid for something that does not help their bottom line (Wenger makes music stands if you can link making a hospital lobby comfortable to selling music stands I salute you). Both companies are based in Owatonna, that is why they did what they did. Outside the office building I work in is a fishing pier paid for by Kwik Trip. Their nearest station is several blocks away and not even visible from the lake. So if corporations such as these provide funding for hospitals and recreation, which you and I value, why would you assume that they would not also value safe driving?

    As for the need for identification, I have started a corporation, purchased insurance, opened two bank accounts in the last 6 months without a state issued ID. I have 5 kids in school with the oldest going into 6th grade and did not have to show ID to get them started. You do need an SSN to do these things but not a picture ID. I did have to provide my drivers license when I had a background check done to adopt three children…sparing the details, their birth parents did not have to show ID or have a background check in order to conceive.

    Everyday millions of activities that are as important to our health and safety as driving occur without govt regulation. And I am not even advocating that driving enforcement be left to the free market, only licensure. To believe that the special pixie dust applied to DMV employees makes them superior to a free market alternative is simply belief in pixie dust. I am okay with simply removing the monopoly. Leave the DMV intact but just allow the market a shot at it as well. If you are okay with letting your kids be certified by the state over a company that has higher standards that would be your choice.