Drivers trying to avoid in-person contact run into online service roadblocks

For more than a month, Linda Cornejo ran into a major roadblock at the intersection of the pandemic and the Georgia Department of Drivers Services.

The Fulton County woman said she would get to the final stages of renewing her license online, only to receive a message that she was required to come into a DDS building to take a photo.

“It’s not really an option for me to go in, take off all of my protective gear so that I can have my picture taken,” Cornejo explained, noting she is a caregiver to family members with compromised immune systems. “I explained all that to the operator, explained our health concerns to the operator, to only receive the reply of, ‘I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.‘”

“If I let my license expire, I’m not gonna be able to vote in November,” she added. “That’s pretty important to me right now.”

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It’s a scenario the state has tried to relieve drivers from facing during the pandemic, as it has heavily pushed online services so people can avoid face-to-face contact and long waits inside DDS facilities across the state.

It’s also a problem it doesn’t believe to be widespread amongst Georgia drivers. Since the state’s emergency health declaration in March, the department has processed nearly 400,000 online license renewals, waiving the requirement for drivers to appear in-person during a public health crisis, granted they’re in good standing with their licenses.

While the department told Channel 2 Action News what happened with Cornejo is an anomaly, it does not keep data on whether other drivers have faced similar technical issues in trying to complete the process from home. The Cobb County woman said she knew at least half a dozen others facing the same issue.

Late last month, a DDS spokeswoman noted Cornejo’s problem may have been due to needing an eye examination. The in-person test is required for drivers 64 and older, and Cornejo was trying to take advantage of online services before the state waived that requirement in early June. DDS will now accept physician confirmation of outside eye exams.

But Cornejo is 58, and was never required to do that. She went through weeks of phone conversations, browser troubleshooting with customer service operators and attempts to download and use the state’s drivers services app.

After Channel 2 Action News connected Cornejo with the state, the five-week old issue was resolved. On Thursday morning, she was able to complete the online renewal process, although DDS was not able to explain why she’d been blocked.

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Another viewer in Fulton County explained she’d also experienced a similar issue when trying to renew online. Her license expired in April, and she was mailed a temporary license that expires next month.

“Not sure why I can’t renew online, especially during a pandemic,” the woman wrote to a Channel 2 Action News producer. “I did not request a temp drivers license. DMV did that on their own.”

It’s still unclear what’s kept her from completing that online process, but a DDS spokeswoman said the woman is a part of a group given a courtesy 120-day extension on license renewal. Any Georgia driver whose license expired during the state emergency was granted the provision.

The state continues to encourage drivers to use the DDS app and seek online services when applicable.