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Is There Hope for Modernizing State DMVs?

The Department of Motor Vehicles may be the most common way residents interact with state government, but digitizing those systems for a modern constituency is no small feat. Three states share their progress.

People sitting in chairs waiting to be called to the DMV counter
Motor vehicle departments represent powerful evidence for why older systems need to be modernized. No other state agency comes into contact with such a wide cross-section of residents. And those residents expect widely available, easy-to-use online services. But DMVs can also be the most difficult to modernize, according to Bill Kehoe, state CIO and director of Washington Technology Solutions, the state’s consolidated technology agency.

“Many DMV programs were built in silos,” said Kehoe, “with disparate and separate technology that is difficult to merge.” Add to that the fact that there are highly complex workflows that are tightly aligned with those aging systems, Kehoe said. But the enormity of the challenge isn’t stopping states from taking on necessary upgrades.


A massive technology overhaul of Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services (DMV), completed just as the COVID-19 pandemic was getting underway, has led to the kinds of automated processes drivers — and indeed, DMV workers — expect.

The project retired nearly 100 old legacy systems, which were difficult to operate and required programming languages like COBOL that have long since faded in use. The new system makes driver data available to other state agencies in real time, among other customer-facing improvements, according to the department.

“From the very beginning, Oregon DMV treated this effort as a business improvement project: a way to re-envision how we serve customers,” said Ben Kahn, manager for innovation and planning at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“Delivering excellent customer service is something DMVs across the country strive for, and to that end, they should place special attention on modernizing and updating legacy systems to align with, and exceed, customer expectations,” Kahn added.

Since the launch of the new system, dubbed OLIVR (Oregon License Issuance and Vehicle Registration), online services are now accessible on any connected device, signatures can be handled electronically and paperwork has been drastically reduced. Drivers can renew their license online, access their profile, update emergency contacts, make payments and even purchase a Sno-Park permit. Last year, the state processed more than 1 million vehicle titles, with 58 percent of these transactions “auto-approved,” said Kahn. Later this year, self-service kiosks and online exams will be added to the mix.

“The adoption rate by customers of the new online options is encouraging and provides a direction for future enhancements,” he added. “Oregon DMV is now a place of innovation and continuous process improvement.”


Texas is in the throes of planning its own DMV transformation project as it prepares to upgrade the state’s Registration and Titling System (RTS). RTS was developed in the mid-1990s and serves as the foundational technology for all motor vehicle transactions, according to Adam Shaivitz, media and communications officer for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV).

Delivering excellent customer service is something DMVs across the country strive for, and to that end, they should place special attention on modernizing and updating legacy systems to align with, and exceed, customer expectations.
“The project aims to implement a modern system capable of improving customer services and providing robust data management and security features in a platform that is cost-efficient to maintain and expand over time,” Shaivitz said in an email to Government Technology.

The Texas project is still in the early stages, with TxDMV requesting some $6.75 million from the state Legislature to develop the needed documentation, identify system requirements and define what the final project will look like. In addition, Shaivitz said, the budget ask includes a comprehensive transition plan.

“Texas is a diverse state with unique operational challenges created by expansive geography and a large and constantly growing state population,” Shaivitz continued, noting that the state’s work is being informed by efforts in other states, including California. Likewise, TxDMV is working with the Texas Department of Information Resources to ensure it applies lessons from other major system upgrades the state has completed recently or that are underway now.


Other DMVs in states like New York have rolled out modernization efforts that have not always unfolded smoothly. An online permit test resulted in fraud and widespread use of fake identification documents, according to the Times Union, an Albany newspaper. Officials with the New York DMV could not be reached for comment for this story.

“DMV systems can be very complex and consist of multiple front-end and back-end systems in addition to new online systems that need to interface with the back-end systems to process the transactions and payments,” said Kehoe, explaining the at-times daunting nature of these types of system modernizations.

A large-scale, resident-focused modernization plan was unveiled by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in January, however, and some of its elements will impact DMV operations. Her proposal includes a new chief customer experience officer for the state, charged with smoothing access to vital state services. Elements of this plan most likely to bear fruit at the DMV are fast-tracking the adoption of e-signature tools, implementing chatbots and voice automation technologies, and creating a unified state ID ( ID+).

This story from our March 2023 magazine is part of a larger look at modernizing state systems. Click here to read the rest of the feature.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.