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What does this mean?

Reimagining the DMV Experience

Technology can go a long way toward improving the work DMVs must do in the wake of new federal requirements like Real ID or disruptions like a global pandemic.

Driver's License shutterstock_1065774434
In 2005, the federal government passed a law requiring all U.S. citizens to have a valid passport or REAL ID to board flights within the United States beginning in October 2020. At the start of 2020, many states still had a long way to go in meeting that goal. In March, the California DMV issued a press releasei stating it had issued nearly 7.6 million REAL IDs. But that is still only a fraction of the 16 million the agency expected to issue by October. Late last year, both Virginia and Minnesota reported that as few as 10 percent of their residents had received REAL IDs.

Of course some significant things have changed since then. Most importantly, the REAL ID deadline was extended one year in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which closed or restricted services at most department of motor vehicle (DMV) offices around the U.S. But that doesn’t change the fact that states will eventually need to meet that deadline, and many of them are behind.

Technology can go a long way toward improving the work DMVs must do in the wake of new federal requirements like Real ID or disruptions like a global pandemic. But most states are still working to online-enable even their most basic DMV processes. In fall 2019, we commissioned a study with the Center for Digital Government (CDG) to evaluate the availability and accessibility of key government services within the 50 states. Here’s what we found when it came to driver’s licensing processes:

  • All 50 states require in-person application for new driver’s licenses, yet only 10 states allow applicants to pre-fill their application information online
  • A majority of states (37) allow online driver’s license renewals but a sizable minority do not (13)
  • Leading states allow driver’s license applicants to pre-apply online and schedule their in-person visits at the DMV
Despite the fact that the California DMV sometimes gets a bad rap publicly, that state polled well in the survey when it came to availability of online services. The agency recently deployed technology solutions and made several process improvements to make it easier and quicker for residents to get a REAL ID, including allowing residents to complete an online REAL ID application before they visit an office. In a press statement issued in January, California DMV officials said transaction times were cut by more than half and the statewide average wait time in an office was down to about 30 minutes as a result. California also allows residents to book DMV appointments online and processes driver’s license renewals online.

Given that initial driver’s license applications require in-person ID verification, there will likely always be a need to submit some forms and identification documents at a DMV office (although there doesn’t have to be; we have the technology to verify ID’s remotely). But things like driver’s license renewals can easily be moved online. Our survey found 37 states now allow for online driver's license renewals, and while that’s a good majority, there’s still an opportunity for improvement. Because all the data already exists in a database, driver’s license renewal applications should be an easy place for states to implement a modern webform with secure electronic signature and integrated payment experience.

Online-enabling other processes can reduce staff work and the amount of time citizens need to spend at a DMV office. If citizens can fill out and submit certain types of forms digitally ahead of an appointment, the DMV employee simply has to pull the information up once the citizen arrives. This prevents the citizen from having to fill out the form by hand in person and the employee from having to re-key the data. In addition, simply allowing citizens to schedule appointments online is an easy way to cut down on lines and reduce strain on DMV call centers.

When the COVID-19 situation gets under control and DMVs open back up, they will likely face a deluge of deferred requests for IDs, vehicle registrations and other documentation. And that’s on top of all paperwork DMVs already handle for the record 276 million vehicles on the road todayii. Online-enabling some of those processes is more critical than ever.

You can learn more about what leading states are doing to digitize driver’s licensing in our whitepaper.

ii US Department of Transportation Data,