Getting a new driver’s license in Mississippi can be a multi-day ordeal with long lines at short-staffed Department of Public Safety stations.
"It's just a mess, having to wait in line like this," said 18-year-old Stuart Alcorn of Raymond, who was back at a station outside Pearl last week for the fifth time.
He said that after waiting one day, examiners would not administer his road test because it was raining. After waiting several hours three other days, he said he didn't get to take either his written test or his road test because too many people were in front of him and the office closed before everyone was served.
"There's only 30 people ahead of me now," Alcorn said as he studied for the written exam Wednesday. "Hopefully I'll get in."
Lines are a problem in other parts of the state as well. On the Gulf Coast, people have waited hours to get licensed.
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety is requesting more money to fill vacant jobs for driver's license examiners, but it's unclear whether legislators will fulfill that request.
"It's hard to say right now," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, a Republican from Hollandale. "We're going to look at it."
The Department of Public Safety says it has 134 jobs for regular driver's license examiners, and 48 are vacant. It has 44 jobs for commercial driver's license examiners, and 14 are vacant.
The department is seeking money to fill the vacant jobs and to add 70 regular examiners and 25 commercial examiners, in addition to other new employees to be supervisors or to be greeters who make sure people have all the documents they need as they enter license stations.
Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher said he knows getting a driver's license is a necessity, and he knows about problems with long lines.
"I've been aware of it since the day I walked in the door," said Fisher, who has led the Department of Public Safety since early 2017.
Maj. Ken Brown, the department's director of driver services, said filling the license examiner jobs is difficult because of low pay. The regular examiner's job starts at about $23,500 a year, and the top salary after decades on the job is about $41,600. Commercial examiners, who have more training, are paid about $3,000 a year more.
Because of the prohibitively long waiting times in Pearl, it's common for people to drive an hour or more to seek shorter lines in smaller towns. Even then, there's no guarantee the station in the smaller town will be open.