Driving to a National DMV

You might call Arizona the first R&D lab of the online department of motor vehicles movement. Since 1996, the state has been busy automatingnow 'Webifying'licensing services for which citizens used to spend hours waiting to access. Most experts agree that Arizona has gone further than any other

You might call Arizona the first R&D lab of the online department of motor vehicles movement. Since 1996, the state has been busy automating--now "Webifying"--licensing services for which citizens used to spend hours waiting to access. Most experts agree that Arizona has gone further than any other state to pave the way for creating a virtual public service network for automobile licensing.

One of the key things it did to reach this position had little to do with technology. Rather, Arizona started by changing some of the policy requirements its government had set up for how citizens interact with the Motor Vehicles Division.

"Only Arizona has made the broad policy changes necessary [for online transactions]," said Jay Maxwell, president of AAMVAnet, a subsidiary of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which is based in Arlington, Va., and facilitates a network of state DMVs.

First, Arizona altered its vision test requirement for driver's license renewals so that the state is required to do less on-site testing, which is costly and time-consuming. Then the state legislature passed a law extending the life of an Arizona driver's license to 12 years--a big jump from the four to seven years allowed in most states.

But while Arizona wants to improve services for in-state constituents, it is tackling an even thornier interstate challenge: It wants to help create "seamless borders" with DMVs in other states so that citizens moving to Arizona can update their car registrations and driver's licenses over the World Wide Web. The goal is to make the transition as easy for those who are moving from outside the state as it is for people relocating within the state.

"We'd like to get to the point where if a person is moving from California to Arizona, the DMV treats that move as a simple address change," said Russell Pearce, director of Arizona's Motor Vehicle Division. The motivation stems partly from the fact that the state is one of the top three fastest-growing areas of the country and therefore is deluged with processing transfers.

Arizona, which is piloting the "seamless borders" program with Louisiana's Office of Motor Vehicles, also is working with IBM Corp. on the project. "Only IBM had the ability, capacity and willingness to work with us to create new applications using its own R&D funding," Pearce said. The company made a huge initial investment in computers, telephone lines and personnel to develop the system, according to Pearce. Now, as part of its streamlining legislation, the state is giving the vendor 2 percent of the vehicle licensing and registration tax revenues.

Citizens can go to the state's EZ Renewal site to renew a vehicle registration online free of charge (at www.servicearizona.com). The state processes about 1,000 vehicle registrations per day online or via its phone-based integrated voice response system. It costs the state $6 to process a renewal when a person comes into an office vs. $4 when processing by mail, online or by phone.

Tweaking the system further, Arizona plans by the end of the summer to offer duplicate driver's licenses online. "Because we already have digitized images of signatures, we believe that if your driver's license is lost, stolen or mutilated, it's absurd to come in to the DMV to stand in line," Pearce said.

In addition, the state will be offering the ability to order vanity plates online. At first, users will be able to check which specific vanity plates are available, and within a year, they will be able to order the plates online. There's also a plan to put on the Internet a system for calculating the fees associated with buying new vehicles. And, at IBM's expense, Arizona is putting kiosks into MVD offices that are designed to help constituents transact business at no cost to them when there's a wait of 30 minutes or more at an office.

Ultimately, Pearce said he wants citizens to be able to log in and check how long the wait would be before they drive to one of the licensing offices. He also wants to offer sample driving tests online.

"The technology is already in place; we just need to develop the new applications to do business better over the Internet," he said.

- Barbara DePompa Reimers is a free-lance writer based in Germantown, Md.

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