Why Illinois' new driver's license appointment system is frustrating seniors

After 1½ weeks of trying, Rolling Meadows resident Frank Leo got a lucky break — an appointment to renew his driver's license.

It was 49 miles away in Joliet, but with his license due to expire Monday, the 83-year-old wasn't taking any chances.

“It has been impossible to get an appointment” within a reasonable distance, Leo said. “It is a fight every morning to find what facility has openings. And they disappear in seconds. It's absolutely ludicrous.”

A number of other drivers, mainly seniors, described similar problems using the Illinois secretary of state's new Skip the Line system that debuted Sept. 1.

The program ended walk-ins at most DMVs for driver-related services such as tests and license renewals, requiring appointments instead. Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said the changes would help eliminate notorious wait times at offices and get customers through faster.

“We've been receiving positive feedback from our Skip-the-Line program, which has cut wait times significantly across the board,” secretary of state spokeswoman Leen Yassine said. “On Sept. 1, more than 11,000 people made appointments in the metro Chicago region.

“We're not aware of any instances when absolutely no appointments have been available online,” Yassine said. Also, “the program was just recently launched, and we are constantly making adjustments to improve operations.”

The agency plans to open two mobile units serving seniors soon in the Chicago area, officials said. In the coming months, two DMV centers for seniors will debut in Chicago and the suburbs.

But what's frustrating now is that “there were no times available in my preferred location,” Des Plaines resident Gerry Dierks said. Last week, she finally snagged a license renewal slot in Deerfield. “I think it's a total screw-up and I don't know why they're doing this,” she said. “I'm 84, and having to go to Deerfield is not a small deal.”

The secretary of state's office explained that “if drivers are unable to find an appointment that fits with their schedule, we encourage them to check the website regularly, as available appointment slots are added and updated on a daily basis. This is a new program, and we are open to any and all feedback.

“For example, we're planning on implementing a feature on the website that allows residents to filter DMV facilities near them,” Yassine said.

Under the new system, slots are available 15 days in advance with some also being released each morning. Customers who prefer to schedule by phone can call (844) 817-4649.

However, when Rod Crandall's mother telephoned the hotline Sept. 11 to book a driver's test, the Wheeling resident hit a roadblock.

“The queue was so filled up, the recording said to leave her name and phone number and they would call her back,” Crandall said. As of Thursday, no one had returned the call, but he found an appointment in Deerfield “by sheer luck.”

“As with any new system, I expect there to be hiccups. But to burden a senior with this is horrible,” Crandall said.

Yassine admitted “providers did not originally anticipate for the high volume of calls they would receive.” But “they are augmenting their capability to increase staff by more than 60%. We will continue to do everything we can to reduce wait times and support everyone who is looking to schedule appointments.”

In the future, time slots will be blocked out for seniors, she said. Customers with concerns can call (800) 252-8980 from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. weekdays or comment online at

Elderly drivers are required to renew their licenses and take driving tests more frequently than younger ones. That's why delays are frustrating, said Jerry Mason. He's spent significant time online starting at 7 a.m. and in limbo on the phone trying to schedule a license renewal.

“There's all kinds of appointments downstate, but nothing around where I live,” said the Palatine senior, who eventually landed a spot in Elgin. “The rollout of that thing was terrible.”

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Gridlock alert

Grayslake area drivers should brace for delays at the intersections of Route 83 with Buckley Road (Route 137) and Atkinson Road. A major improvement project begins Thursday and will close a section of Atkinson and shift Buckley onto temporary pavement. Detours will be posted with construction set to finish in late 2024.

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