Getting There: Driver testing going private

State aims to ease long wait times for customers

December 24, 2012 - Updated: 7:09 a.m.

The state of Washington is phasing out its driver examination program and turning it over to private driving schools across the state.

As of Jan. 1, the Spokane Valley licensing office, 12801 E. Sprague Ave., will stop administering driver tests.

The north Spokane licensing office at 6519 N. Lidgerwood St. stopped offering license exams last fall.

In addition, the licensing department is moving to a six-year license renewal period. A driver is only required to appear at the licensing office for a photograph once every 10 years after age 24. Renewals in between those required appearances can be done online or by mail.

The changes are part of a move by the Legislature and department to improve public service and to reduce waiting times that had reached upward of an hour, said Christine Anthony, spokeswoman for the department.

No job cuts are planned. License offices will stay busy. “There’s still plenty of work to do and customers to help,” Anthony said.

First-time drivers now must enroll at a private driving school before they can take the knowledge and skills testing for a license.

B&B Driving School in Spokane is one of the places new drivers can learn the rules of the road and how to maneuver a vehicle. Drivers under age 18 must take the course, but it is recommended for all new drivers, school officials said.

The cost is $475 and includes 15 class sessions and nine practice drives. Also, the fee covers the required testing and one retest in case the first test is failed.

In addition to the school and testing costs, new drivers must also pay an application fee of $35 plus a license fee of $45.

Out-of-state drivers who move to Washington do not need to take another driving test and can apply directly with the licensing department.

The changes come under legislation that also authorized the department to outsource motorcycle testing to local motorcycle training shops.

Small communities that do not have driving schools will continue to have licensing tests handled by their state offices, Anthony said.

Slick tips

Speaking of safely maneuvering a vehicle, Ray Lamont of Bridgestone Tires sent out some tips for driving on snow and ice.

While on icy roads, periodically check traction by touching the brakes and adjust speed accordingly. Conditions can change dramatically over short distances, especially at the approaches to stoplights.

Maximize tire grip by making separate maneuvers when turning. That means slow down ahead of the curve then turn at an even and safe speed. Accelerate again after the turn is completed.

Avoid using cruise control on ice and snow. Stay home if conditions are too severe.

Rest stop renovation

The Washington State Department of Transportation was planning to reopen the 1938-era Traveler’s Rest at Snoqualmie Pass on Friday, initially for limited use until completion of a $600,000 restoration.

The rest area will have heated restrooms with flush toilets. However, the water is not for consumption or hand-washing. Hand sanitizers will be available.

Thornberg Construction of Issaquah, Wash., is contracted to do the restoration.

Traveler’s Rest was built under a New Deal public works project during the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Today, the building houses the rest area and the Red Mountain Coffee shop and deli.

By late January, the rest stop will have new lighting, heat and ventilation; a new family restroom; increased accessibility for people with mobility problems; a larger parking area; sidewalk improvements; a new roof; exterior surface repairs; and a backup power generator.

First Night parking

The city of Spokane is warning drivers that some downtown streets will be closed to parking on New Year’s Eve to make room for the First Night Spokane events.

STA will offer a free shuttle bus from a free parking area in the yellow lot at the Riverpoint campus, 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd., during the arts and entertainment festival. The shuttles will run every 10 minutes from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.

For more information, go to firstnightspokane.org.

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