Best and Worst States for DMV

By Ben Hartwig
15 May, 2019

If you live in a populous state – typically one with traffic congestion, busy streets, and no parking – you can expect to wait in line for many things, particularly to do business at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

It makes sense that the states with the highest population and the largest number of motor vehicles per capita would have busy DMV offices, but others may too, depending on factors such as:

  • modern technology that allows some business to be conducted online;
  • the number of DMV offices in the state;
  • state funding for DMV clerks and staffing of offices;
  • state laws that limit certain duties to people with specialized qualifications, such as requiring state troopers to give driving tests.

Survey ranking

Ohio residents give their DMV high grades because the agency allows them to complete many transactions online, and the average wait time at a physical location is around 15 minutes. In the same survey, Indiana and Illinois residents rated their DMV experiences positively as well (Indiana allows residents to do more than 50 percent of necessary business online rather than in person).

In Arkansas, where residents wait only about 12 minutes on average to get driver’s licenses and registrations, dissatisfaction put the DMV in 25th place among states surveyed. In 2018 the state unveiled new websites that allow residents to perform more vehicle registration and license renewal tasks online.

Connecticut slashed over 150 DMV staff positions, earning the state very low scores in service satisfaction in the survey.

In a surprising turn, Californians, who pay a premium to register vehicles and whose average wait time was nearly an hour, put their state’s DMV offices in fifth place for satisfaction. The entire operation has been in turmoil in recent years, with technology at some offices not keeping pace with the demands of the largest state and leadership in flux. The state added 500 new staffers and opened DMV during regular business hours on Saturdays and allows residents to schedule appointments, yet still battles with long wait times. Legislators recently proposed to fix the system that residents complain about, including cracking down on people who sell appointment times to those desperate enough to pay. One website culled online reviews of California DMV experiences to rank them, determining that Santa Clara, Glendale, and Daly City DMV officers were the three worst, each with 200-plus reviews.

Cost of vehicle ownership

States where residents pay few fees to own vehicles do not equate with satisfaction or short wait times at DMV offices. Oregon, for instance, has the lowest costs for ownership, around $9,685 according to one calculation, yet residents there are among the least satisfied with processes at the DMV. Consumer satisfaction with DMV wait times and service earned the state agency 37th place out of all states.

New York, which has the fourth-largest population of all states and the most vehicles registered per capita (539 per 1000 people) is ranked as 13th most expensive for ownership, about $12,835. Yet the state places a respectable 13th in the consumer satisfaction survey, maybe in part because it has dedicated centers for road tests and registrations, tells consumers that wait times are shortest on Wednesdays, and has a plethora of DMV locations, including 11 in metro Buffalo alone (there are another 14 offices near Rochester).

The Real ID snafu

These days you don’t even have to own a car to get stuck in a long line waiting for your number to be called at the DMV, due to something called Real ID. This is a new federal identification card that will be required to board commercial airlines or entering federal facilities starting in 2020 and can only be obtained by visiting a DMV in person. The Real ID requirement applies only to states whose driver’s license requirements doesn’t match the Homeland Security standards for Real ID.

Residents of North Carolina faced hours-long delays to do business at their local DMV offices in 2018. An official attributed the lines to the 2020 Real ID requirement, which they estimated would affect about 4 million of the state’s 10 million residents.

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