Department of Motor Vehicles

From Academic Kids

The Department of Motor Vehicles is a government department which handles matters related to automobiles, such as issuing license plates and driver's licenses. The usual acronym is DMV.

In certain countries with federal governments, such as the United States and Australia, each individual state government operates its own DMV (as opposed to having a single DMV operated by the federal government).


U.S. terminology and organization

In some states, the DMV is known as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (Massachusetts), the Motor Vehicle Division, the Motor Vehicle Administration, Motor Vehicle Commission, or simply Motor Vehicle Services.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state where no part of the state government performs DMV functions; it has completely delegated vehicle registration and driver licensing to county governments. In the City and County of Honolulu, the functions are further delegated to an office of the Department of Finance.

In some jurisdictions, driver's licenses and vehicle registrations are handled by separate departments. For example, in the state of Washington, the Department of Motor Vehicles only deals with vehicle registrations, while the Department of Licensing is responsible for driver's licenses.

In others, the DMV is not a separate cabinet-level department, but instead is a division or bureau within a larger department. Examples of departments which perform DMV functions include the Department of Justice (e.g., Montana), the Department of Public Safety (e.g., Texas), the Department of Revenue (e.g., Missouri), and the Department of Transportation (e.g., Pennsylvania).

A few states do not separate DMV functions into distinct organizational entities at all, but simply bundle them into a laundry list of responsibilities assigned to an existing government agency. Thus, in Michigan and Illinois, the Secretary of State's offices perform responsibilities which would be handled by the DMV in other states.

DMVs in general have a reputation for mediocre customer service and long wait times. As a result, jokes about DMVs have become common (and even somewhat of a cliché) in American comedy.

DMV jurisdiction and exceptions

Usually, all long-term residents of a state must possess a driver's license issued by their state DMV, and their vehicles must show license plates (and current registration tags or stickers) issued by that agency.

The main exceptions to the above rule are vehicles registered by the federal government. The Office of Foreign Missions at the U.S. Department of State has a Diplomatic Motor Vehicles program which issues driver's licenses to foreign diplomats and their dependents, registers their vehicles, and issues special "CONSUL" license plates. The General Services Administration issues vehicle plates for the federal vehicle fleet (although federal employees who drive must hold driver's licenses issued by their home state).

In some states, besides conducting the written and hands-on driving tests that are a prerequisite to earning a driver's license, DMVs also regulate private driving schools and their instructors.

General reputation

In countries with no national identification card, driver's licenses have often become the de facto identification card for many purposes, and DMVs have effectively become the agency responsible for verifying identity in their respective states.

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