Montana suspending driver tests, extending license renewals in response to COVID-19

Montana suspending driver tests, extending license renewals in response to COVID-19

Montana REAL ID

Clerks help customers renew their driver licenses at the Division of Motor Vehicles in Helena on Dec. 6, 2019.

Montana's Motor Vehicle Division offices will remain open, but driving tests will be suspended for a month and crowds will be limited in waiting areas, officials said Tuesday.

Attorney General Tim Fox and MVD Administrator Sarah Garcia announced several changes coming to MVD offices in response the novel coronavirus. Steps include a governor's executive order to extend the renewal deadline for expiring driver licenses, suspension of driving tests, additional cleaning of offices and limiting the number of customers allowed in waiting areas. The Helena office will also temporarily relocate.

“The COVID-19 virus is obviously changing daily life around the world and Montana is no exception,” Fox said. “Businesses and governments must adapt in order to help limit the spread of the disease, but at the same time we must do all we can to continue providing the services that we all need.”

An executive order extending expired driver license renewals for 90 days was signed Tuesday, Gov. Steve Bullock said during a media call. The extension applies to licenses that expire in March, April or May. 

Fox cautioned that the renewal did not protect Montanans from citations in other states for driving with an expired license.  

“The goal is to limit the need for visits to MVD stations during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Fox said. “This safeguards the health of the public and of MVD employees by reducing person-to-person contact and allowing Montanans to focus on other important matters until this situation subsides.”

TSA issued a statement, Fox said, indicating that travelers with expired state driver licenses or ID cards may still use them for a year to fly.

When asked about the upcoming Real ID deadline in the fall, Garcia said Sen. Steve Daines had requested an extension past the current deadline of Oct. 1, and she anticipated a response, particularly if the pandemic lasts much longer. 

Within MVD, office chairs are being removed and customers that come inside may be asked to provide a phone number and wait in their vehicles to avoid crowds. Additional disinfecting is also occurring, including on eye test machines, Garcia said.

“We’re trying to practice good social distancing when you can,” she said.

Driving tests will also be suspended for 30 days in an effort to avoid placing staff and customers in close contact, officials said. 

Due to the sharing of office space and temporary closing to the public of AAA in Helena, the Helena MVD office will move to the Scott Hart Building at 302 N. Roberts St. until the business reopens.

Officials said they meet daily to discuss the status of MVD and other divisions of the Montana Department of Justice, but have thus far decided against closing MVD offices altogether.

“We believe that in conjunction with all of the actions at the federal, state and local level that are designed to curtail the spread of COVID-19, that these initial steps are important and collectively may help us avoid a situation where we altogether curtail certain services,” Fox said.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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The small community in northern Montana has a population of about 4,800 but accounts for three-fifths of the state's five total deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus

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