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Wednesday, January 3, 2001

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
At the Dillingham branch of the Honolulu Licenses and Permits
Division, Sophie Yonashiro shows off her old driver's license,
on top, and the new one, on the bottom.

license division
in top gear

The post-holiday rush, along
with a new law removing Society
Security numbers, has the driver's
license division hopping

By Suzanne Tswei

Joyce Mah never liked having her Social Security number emblazoned across her driver's license for the world to see. And she did something about it the first chance she got.

Never mind she had to do without lunch and stand in line for about 90 minutes for a new license with a new identification number.

"I thought it might be busy, but I didn't expect this," Mah said yesterday as she waited at the crowded Dillingham Boulevard branch of the Honolulu Licenses and Permits Division, the main branch and always the busiest.

Although a new law went into effect Jan. 1, yesterday was the first working day of the year and the first opportunity for drivers to apply for new licenses that bear eight-digit identification numbers. The law aims to keep social security numbers more private and help ease the growing problem of identity theft.

Preceded by the letter "H," The numbers are randomly generated by a computer for all applicants statewide.

People "just kept coming in all day," said Alan Miyamura, Honolulu chief licensing examiner and inspector. "It never really stopped. I guess it's (in the news) and words of mouth -- the coconut wireless."

There were no applicants at the door when the Dillingham branch opened at 7:45 a.m., but the crowd gathered steadily through the day, building to a packed house by the usually busy lunch hour, Miyamura said.

"We are getting double-barreled. Usually after a holiday, we get quite busy. This being the first working day after the New Year's holiday, it's even busier. Then there's the new law, I guess we are getting triple-barreled," Miyamura said.

Not all the applicants were motivated by the desire for new identification numbers. Miyamura said the licensing branches always are busy with renewals, issuance of new licenses and other normal routines after a holiday.

Miyamura did not have yesterday's totals for the different licenses, but he said it was one of the busiest days he's seen at the Dillingham branch. "And I am sure everybody at the other branches were busy, too."

The Dillingham branch, which serves residents from Hawaii Kai to Kalihi, normally processes 200 to 300 licenses a day and up to 600 licenses on a busy day. Other branches typically process 60 to 80 licenses a day, he said.

Clerks at Windward Mall's satellite city hall processed more than 100 licenses yesterday, compared to the normal 30, said Dennis Taga, the Windward Mall division chief. About 50 were for change of license numbers, he said.

By 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the computer had assigned 2,028 new license numbers, Miyamura said. However, that total reflects all licenses processed yesterday, including new licenses, renewals, duplicates and others.

Under normal circumstances, clerks can process a license in 20 to 30 minutes, Miyamura said. But applicants had to wait for more than an hour yesterday at the Dillingham branch despite a nearly full staff of 14 clerks, he said.

"This was not the worst I've seen, but it's pretty bad. It's one of the larger days. We are working as fast as we can, but the machine (that prints the licenses) can only work so fast," Miyamura said.

Mah said she didn't like waiting but that it was a small price to pay to eliminate the use of her social security number as an identification number. The staff at the Dillingham station were "very, very nice" and made the wait bearable, she said.

Wilbert Castro Jr., a real estate agent, also wanted to keep his Social Security number private because "it's simply not a good idea to have your Social Security number floating around." His wait was about 90 minutes, too.

"Oh, it's well worth it. I'd be willing to spend twice the time. I've been waiting for a long time for it. Now I don't have to give people my Social Security number any more," Castro said.

To help ease the wait, Miyamura suggested that people wait until they actually need to renew their licenses, or at least give it a few days, before applying for licenses.

"Don't panic. You don't have to come in all one time," he said.

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