NC DMV offices often seem to have too few people to handle long lines. Here’s why.

If you had to wait in a long time at a Division of Motor Vehicles office this summer, it may be because there weren’t enough people working there.

On a typical day, DMV driver’s license offices statewide had on hand about 70% of the staff the agency says it needs for them to fully function, according to Mike Newsome, director of driver services. The DMV says it needs 638 employees to run all the computer terminals in its 117 driver’s license offices statewide, but that with vacancies and absences it usually had about 450.

A big part of that shortfall stems from a limit on the number of permanent employees the department can hire and the difficulty holding onto temporary workers, Newsome and DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin told members of the state Board of Transportation on Wednesday.

Lawmakers have capped the number of permanent workers in DMV driver’s license offices at 568, they said. The agency has struggled over the years to fill those jobs, but with higher pay and bonuses in recent years it has cut the vacancy rate for these positions in half, to 12%.

To fill the rest of the jobs in its license offices, the DMV relies on temporary workers — those who are paid about $19 an hour, with no benefits, for up to 11 months at a time. Lawmakers have authorized the agency to hire 142 temporary workers.

But the vacancy rate for those jobs is 77%, Newsome told the Board of Transportation, contributing to an overall vacancy rate of 25.4%. The problem is retention, he and Goodwin said. In a tight labor market, turnover of temporary workers is high.

“If they find another job that pays a little bit more, they’ll go there, where there’s benefits,” Goodwin said.

Allowing the DMV to make more of these temporary workers permanent, with higher pay and benefits, would help, Newsome and Goodwin said.

Where customers might notice the shortage of employees most is when they arrive at a busy office and there’s a line outside and no one to greet them. DMV refers to this job as “triage,” checking with customers to make sure they’re in the right place and have the documents they need.

“Typically our temporary employees perform that role,” Newsome said. “So in many locations right now we don’t have the triage and facilitator available because of the vacancies.”

Crowding at DMV offices should be easing with the coming of fall. Summer is the agency’s busiest season, as larger numbers of students and others seek their first North Carolina license. The agency served 320,828 people at its driver’s license offices in May and June, the most since 2019.

Despite the crowds, Newsome said he didn’t think the staffing shortages were causing “burnout” yet.

“Our employees are still motivated. They’re still performing, out of peak season.,” he said. “But it takes its toll.”