Once considered the epitome of slow-moving government bureaucracy, motor vehicle departments were among the first state agencies to move real transactions online. Now their efforts are paying off.

Online services in leading states have begun to capture a significant share of the routine citizen-to-government business handled by motor vehicle agencies. And officials say growing use of electronic transactions is shrinking lines in DMV offices, lowering transaction costs and vastly improving public satisfaction with one of governments most maligned institutions.

"One reason jurisdictions are really pushing for this is because DMVs tend to get a pretty bad rap," said Renee Eastman, e-government coordinator for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). "They have been extremely aggressive in trying to get citizens to do services online."

A study released in May by Accenture shows online services rapidly becoming the norm at motor vehicle agencies across the nation. Agencies in 30 states offered at least one online service as of January 2001, more than doubling the previous years findings, according to the IT consulting firm. Almost 30 percent of state motor vehicle agencies offered multiple electronic services, up from just 8 percent the year before, the study added.

"I think the timing certainly is right [for online services]," said Rob Berton, managing partner of Accentures government practice. "People are demanding them, and the technology is there to support them. All of that is coming together."

Drivers in many states appear to be giving electronic services a warm reception. In Virginia, for example, nearly a quarter of eligible citizens now opt to renew their drivers licenses via the Internet. In Massachusetts, more than 15 percent of drivers renew their vehicle registration online. And in Arizona, about 17 percent of all specialty license plate purchases flow through the Web.

Penny Martucci, assistant division director of competitive government partnerships for the Arizona Department of Transportations Motor Vehicle Division, said electronic services, offered to Arizona drivers since late 1997, have played a key role in reducing the time citizens spend in the divisions offices. "In the early 90s we had two- to three-hour wait times for walk-in customers," she said. "Now the average wait and transaction time in the offices totals about 25 minutes."

Furthermore, the agency estimates each online transaction costs about $5 to process, less than half the overhead of a traditional office visit.

Whats Available?

Among the currently available services, online vehicle registration renewals - offered in 26 states according to AAMVA - are by far the most common. These applications also tend to draw some of the heaviest user traffic, with some attracting tens of thousands of users each month. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles processed 33,282 online registration renewals in April, while Arizona received 21,878 registration renewals during the same period.

Online drivers license renewals are gaining popularity as well. AAMVA data shows eight states currently offer these services, and similar applications are under construction in several other jurisdictions. One of the most successful examples comes from Virginia, where the states Department of Motor Vehicles is processing 7,000 of these transactions per month, or about 22 percent of all license renewals. Similarly, Floridas Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles began renewing drivers licenses online last summer and currently processes about 5,000 of them per month.

In addition, at least 14 states now allow citizens to perform address changes online, AAMVA said. Several agencies reported steady traffic through these applications. In Virginia, for example, an average of 4,000 drivers update their address information online each month, and monthly transactions through Massachusetts online address-change service neared 9,000 this spring.

A similar service in Arizona processed 6,674 electronic address changes in April - just one month after its introduction. Martucci said the convenience of online transactions encourages drivers to bring address information up to date. "People are saying they love the opportunity to do the online

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.