The New Line on DMV Services

Online registration made it possible for the enlisted Virginia resident

to avoid a trip back home to wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

That is exactly the scenario Rick Holcomb envisioned. When he took the

helm in 1994 as Virginia's DMV commissioner, his goal was simple: to conduct

business as quickly as possible so customers do not have to spend time standing

in line.

The same principle has been driving change at DMVs nationwide during

the past several years. States including Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas and

Louisiana already offer online registration renewals. Others will offer

that service and other World Wide Web-based applications by year's end.

"What we've done is revolutionize our approach to customer service,"

Holcomb said. "We got out from behind the counter [and] figured out what

our customers wanted, which was to get in and out as quickly as possible."

Some of the changes Virginia has made are decidedly low-tech. The state

renovated its 73 customer service centers, changing the architecture, equipment

and even the attitude of its employees.

For example, customers entering a Virginia DMV service center proceed

to a central information counter where a staff member gives them the proper

forms to fill out and assigns them a number based on what service they require.

This ensures that customers end up with the right form at the right place,

rather than waiting in an endless line only to find out they need to get

more information and stand in line again.

But Virginia's focus is reducing lines by moving as many services as

possible to the Web.

For starters, the Web can help people even if they still must go to

one of the centers. The DMV Web site lists current wait times at all the

service centers. The site also provides historic data, so people can check

the best time of day and time of the month to head to the center.

The real goal is to make it possible for people to stay out of the centers

all together.

Since May 1999, when Virginia started to offer online car registration

renewals, more people have done it every month, according to DMV. More than

1,900 car registration renewals were performed in June 1999, jumping to

nearly 5,000 in August, said DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen. So far, the DMV

has racked up a total of 36,000 online car registration renewals.

Virginians also can order personalized license plates online, reorder

a lost or stolen license and get a copy of their current driving record.

Without any formal advertising, more than 70 people purchased personalized

plates online the first business day that service was offered, Goheen said.

The state's efforts toward customer service and technology are paying

off. In 1998, the Virginia DMV served 5.5 million customers who made more

than 7.7 million transactions with an average wait time of just more than

seven minutes. In 1999, the number of customers and transactions rose by

about 500,000 each, while the average wait time dropped to about 6.5 minutes.

"That's a pretty strong indication that we're moving more people in

and out as quickly as possible," Holcomb said.

Virginia's newest application for online driver's license renewals should

reduce DMV center traffic even more.

Virginia drivers with a clean driving record (less than two moving violations

since their last renewal) need only a personal identification number (PIN)

and a major credit card to renew their license online at the DMV Web site.

The PIN, which controls access to a personal account, is requested online

and mailed to a user.

Once into their account, people follow a simple series of instructions

on the driver's license renewal page. At the end of process, a confirmation

page displays the renewal information and a credit card authorization number,

and new licenses are mailed out within three business days. When someone's

license comes up for renewal again, the DMV will mail them a temporary PIN

they can use to re-establish an online account, Goheen said.

In the first several weeks after the service went live in mid-January,

more than 800 people renewed their licenses online, Goheen said.

The potential for moving DMV services online from the centers almost

seems unlimited, Holcomb said.

"The way technology is moving, I'll never say anything is impossible,"

Holcomb said. "When I started in March of 1994, the things we're doing now

were George Jetson-types of things because they were so far out there. Our

goal is try to have every [transaction] that can be done in a walk-in at

a service center up on our Web page."

Other states' DMVs, while not as far along as Virginia, also are accelerating

their online services.

This spring, California will join the ranks of Web-enabled DMVs by allowing

people to register vehicles online.

California's new service is part of an overall Internet Renewal Project

at the DMV, which aims to shift the agency's five-year-old Web site (

from providing information to providing services, said Bill Wihl, chief

of the department's re-engineering branch.

IBM Corp. developed the registration system under a $2 million contract,

providing the hardware, software, technical assistance and system monitoring

tools. American Management Systems Inc. developed the credit card processing

feature that enables people to pay the annual registration renewal fee online.

The state brought in yet another company for a security audit to make

sure the application had no holes where customer information might be accessed,

Wihl said.

Only motorists insured by companies participating in the DMV's electronic

insurance verification program can renew online. So far, only three companies

have signed up, but more are expected, Gengler said. The state estimated

that 7.5 million vehicles, or 30 percent of the state's total vehicles,

could be registered through this service.

Charlie Fenner, chief information officer at the California DMV, said

the upcoming registration renewal function is just a preview of things to


"What we're doing now, we can add on to in the future and increase the

number of transaction types we offer," he said. "We want to be sure that

the platform is appropriate for all the services we want to add, [such as]

change of address forms, making appointments at field offices and license

renewals online."

South Carolina also has big plans for its DMV's Web presence. Like Virginia,

South Carolina will step up its online services as part of a larger effort

to revamp the entire department, said Sharon Madison, interim call center

manager at the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

The initiative, known as Project Phoenix ( phoenix),

was born out of the need to restructure a department that was consistently

failing to meet its customers' needs.

In his recent budget address, Gov. Jim Hodges announced that $17.5 million

would be needed in this fiscal year for Project Phoenix, with $13 million

for the purchase and installation of hardware and software, and the remaining

$4.5 million for technical training, support and maintenance.

"There was a lot of talk about what the Internet could do for the DMV,

[where] we haven't had any new systems for over 25 years," Madison said.

"The current system goes down all the time and is a nightmare for our everyday


The South Carolina DMV intends to offer several online services, including

license and registration renewals, change of address forms and information

for individuals attempting to get their driving credentials reinstated,

Madison said.

However, those services will come in the third and final phase of the

initiative, which will not be until after 2001, Madison said. Now, South

Carolina's DMV Web site provides only basic information and downloadable


What Can I Do Online?

* Change Address

* Create a Personal License Plate

* Download Forms

* Make Requests

* PIN Administration

* Purchase an ID Card

* Purchase a License Plate

* Purchase a Sample License Plate

* Renew Driver's License

* Renew Vehicle Registration

* Replace Your Driver's License

* More....


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected