Behind-the-wheel testing now offered at Butler County Clerk of Courts title office

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

New drivers sometimes have to wait months to take their behind-the-wheel tests so the Butler County Clerk of Courts is taking advantage of a new state law that allows her to expand her authority and provide the service.

Clerk of Courts Mary Swain’s Hamilton title office location will start grading a drivers’ ability to drive the streets and navigate those orange and white maneuverability sticks and cones on May 22. She also hopes to begin the testing at the Fairfield location in June.

She told the Journal-News she wants to provide another service to county residents, and it will be convenient, because after the new drivers pass the test, they can go next door to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and get their license.

Chief Deputy Joe Statzer said they saw a need and wanted to fill it because many of the BMV offices don’t offer behind-the-wheel testing.

“It gets so heavily scheduled, there can be sometimes three months and longer wait to get in to do this,” Statzer said. “So they’re looking for basically to kind of help with the logjam with offices that know how to deal with drivers.”

The test will cost $35 if a driver schedules in advance and $45 for walk-ins. Statzer said it essentially will cost $17.50 each, for the road test and maneuverability. If they pass one and fail the other they can come back and only have to pay the cost of the failed section of the test.

Swain is moving four title office employees into this new program — she’ll need to hire replacements — and they have been training with state testers to learn the rules of road, so to speak. Jordan Wilson, who is one of the new examiners, said the state trainers will be in the car with him for the first few appointments.

The former title clerk said he was happy to take on the new challenge because “this just seemed like it was calling to me to put myself in a better position to grow and to help people get something that is so important in everyday life and keep our roads safe.”

He admitted he is a little nervous.

“Change is always a little nerve wracking anytime you go from one thing to another,” he said. “You always have those butterflies in your stomach, and I am getting in a car with inexperienced drivers, yeah I would say I’m a little nervous.”

Bret Crow, communications director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, told the Journal-News before a pilot program was launched last July there were only 50 driver’s examination sites in the state. The only one in Butler County previously was the BMV location off Ohio 4 on the east side of Hamilton.

“The BMV launched a pilot program with the Preble County Clerk of Court to contract as a third-party location for driver’s license skills test,” Crow said. “Joining Preble County in the pilot phase of the project were six other locations at driver training schools in Auglaize, Coshocton, Delaware, Putnam, and Summit counties and Butler Tech in Butler County. Now that the pilot program was successful, we are expanding the program.”

The tests at Swain’s two locations will be offered Tuesday through Saturday. The Butler Tech tests cost $50 — $25 for each portion — and are offered Monday through Friday out of the Liberty Twp. campus. The tests at the BMV are free and can be scheduled Monday through Saturday.

The start-up cost is $209,950 which includes $52,000 for salary and benefits for the four examiners, $7,200 to build out work stations at both locations, $3,000 for computers and other expenses.

“The first year we’ll probably make money on it, I don’t think we’ll make a lot of money on it,” Statzer said. “But as years go on and we’ve got this thing rolling, we don’t look to make a fortune.... It’s a nice service for Butler County, I believe it will definitely cover its costs and then some.”

Swain routinely returns $1.5 million in excess title fees to the general fund but she said she doesn’t expect this program to bring anywhere close to that amount.

Butler Tech’s Transportation Training and Testing coordinator Jim Miller said they started their program last September and since then have tested about 2,500 drivers. He said the program has gone very well and drivers can get appointments much faster — often next day or at least within a week or less — than the BMV testing sites.

“The backlog at the state for getting people to get their license was pretty enormous,” Miller said about the reason for opening testing up to third parties. “Two, three months at some places, much like the CDL side which got privatized years ago, car testing is going the same way.”

Miller said they have nine examiners approved by the state and two more in training, but they also do commercial driver’s license testing. He said he didn’t have budgetary figures for the program but just like Swain, he said making money isn’t really goal.

“All we want to do is pay the salaries of the people who are working and get people their license,” he said. “This is a service that we’re providing.”

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