The Washington DOL: How to get a drivers license in over a year with only a dozen complicated steps
I’ve had a Drivers License since I was 18. (I’m in my mid-40s). I have two vehicles, a Smart, and a Minivan. I live with two 20-somethings who are new drivers.
I moved to Washington pre-pandemic. In February of 2020. Immediately after landing here, I needed to head back down to the SF Bay Area to get more in-person work done. Originally, my plan was “hit the DMV first to get our ID’s sorted out” but I wound up not having time. My plan to get down to the Bay Area involved riding with someone else, so the time was not flexible. Everyone was tired after the move. We didn’t even have a bed yet. Nobody wanted to go stand in line at a state agency two days after a 14 hour drive, so we didn’t.
This was a mistake.
For reference, I had a few little complications going on. I had moved to Washington with a leased vehicle, but found out only after my move that the terms of the lease prohibited moving it to another state. (It was through Fair.com, a month-to-month leasing company). I was quite ready to buy another vehicle, even had a friend selling one cheap, but absent an in-state license, I could not legally register one, even though in-state registrations are not handled by the DOL, but by private agencies authorized to act on behalf of the state, like AAA can do in some states. (Washington state had given those agencies no guidance on how they were allowed to act differently in an emergency). Worse still, my California registration on both vehicles was expiring, which would forbid them being at my apartment complex.
My roommates, who had moved with me, were not drivers, or even learners, when we moved. This was a shame too, as practicing when the roads were virtually empty would have been useful. Because they’re new at life and cars are expensive, they were able to walk to work and take our public transit system, and rely on me for rides when needed.
All that changed when one of them got a new job and was given 30 days to get their license. Thankfully, they were already somewhere down this process for Washington State or it would have been a non-starter.
I’m re-counting the bad, awful, no-good, stupid DOL process here just so I can point at it for reference.
- During the worst of COVID, in mid-March, the DOL said “we’re closed” for a while. For months.
- Months later, they said “We’re open, but only by appointment.” You still cannot walk in as of now, May 2021.
- “Oh, and by the way, we only do appointments up to 30 days in advance. It’s like Ticketmaster. A new slot opens up 30 days prior to every weekday at 10AM. May the odds be ever in your favor. Sucker.”
- You can’t book an appointment without creating an account and putting in a bunch of info.
- You also can’t see which locations have open appointments in a grid, you must first select a location, then drill-down.
- Typical appointment wait times are 2–3 weeks out, but in some smaller towns you can get one in a few days. Thankfully, a helpful person who actually answered the phone there told me that one such town is Wenatchee. Which looks a lot like Modesto or Barstow with more apple orchards.
- So, if you need something fast, you’re driving 130 miles each way to Wenatchee. This was what I wound up doing to get my license sorted (which was a simple transfer. Present my old ID, plus a few pieces of mail, and a passport, done).
My partners did not drive at the time, having never been licensed. They had their California IDs, they had passports, it was enough to identify them. But doing the final switchover was still a priority at some point.
A few months later, when we could find multiple appointments (our local one was still booked so solid you were playing the 10am lottery), I brought my partners (again, to Wenatchee) to get their state IDs and learner’s permits. We went camping at the same time. It’s a beautiful drive.
- I figured it would be a one-stop trip and they’d walk out with two learners permits which would be the same card as their ID, like in NY. Or a regular ID, and a piece of paper that said “Learners Permit”, like in California.
- Just like in California, to get a learner’s permit, you need to pass a written test.
- But the WA DOL doesn’t offer a learner’s permit test, they send you to an outside driving school for that.
- But to go to a driving school just to take the written test, you need a state ID.
- To actually take driving LESSONS at a driving school, or a road test, you need a learners permit.
- You can apply for a learner’s permit online (just a paper permit), but ONLY if you don’t already have a state ID. (I guess this is for like…high school students who have never had one?)
- So, after a second trip (each, at different times) to the DOL (this time in town), they issued my people learners permits, which are hard cards, but have a gray square where the photo should be. Because, I guess, they can only issue one state ID, and they don’t want the learner’s permit to be a valid ID.
This is the point at which my partner was given the 30 days to get their license.
- So then, back to the driving school to sign up for a few lessons, and then to take the road test in the driving school’s car. Which is $75 per attempt (plus the cost of lessons, if you need them).
- The driving school then gives you a numbered yellow piece of paper with your score. You need to go to the DOL to get your actual license.
- Which you can do online, but only if you have a PHOTO PERMIT (which I have no idea how we were supposed to get). Otherwise, it’s: “Make an appointment, hopefully in under 30 days, if you’re lucky.” Sucker.
They passed their road test this Wednesday. They had surgery on Thursday, and they’re back to their office work next thursday.
So, this Tuesday, surgery and all, I’m driving to Wenatchee again. I can’t go to the DOL for her. Ergo, she gets to ride with me there 3–4 hours each way (hope the pain meds work), and hopefully, she will leave with a temporary paper license, and a new one in the mail. I am not optimistic that there won’t be some other issue in the process. But this is the only option I’ve got.