The DMV: Waiting on the world to change

The line outside the Department of Motor Vehicles is 100 people deep on any given morning. As I stood fifth in line one recent morning, I was listening to dozens of people talk about where they would rather be:

“My manager almost didn’t let me off work today.”
“I had to call the babysitter two hours early.”
“I had to cancel my whole shift today.”
“My husband had to drive me here today, neither of us are going to make it to work.”

These were not people wealthy enough to be missing days of work. In fact, they were audibly stressed about their ability to pay the bills. But Uncle Sam demands payment, and who are we as citizens to demand convenience and efficiency from our government?

Susan, the woman behind me in line, explained her situation: Her license was set to expire the following week. As a rural Pennsylvania resident, the only way she can get to work is via her car. She was scheduled for morning shifts at the store she worked at for the next six mornings. She took this day off and forfeited the eight hours of work at $15.50.

She would be forced to pay to renew her license, suffer the financial costs of missing this day of work, and also felt that her boss was frustrated her license renewal pulled her out of work during a busy time of year.

At the DMV she would not be tested on her driving skills, she would not demonstrate any additional competency, she would in no way be a better driver for going through this process. According to her, she had a perfect driving record — not even a speeding ticket. If she did not go through this process, however, she would run the risk of being fined by the state, or worse. She could have her license suspended, or could be arrested, because she did not pay an arbitrary fine.

Is this the kind of system we want for our friends and neighbors?

Why are we allowing a bureaucratic failure like the department of motor vehicles to impose financial and other penalties on any of us?

The DMV does not exist to promote safety. The organization exists to generate revenue for the state by taking money out of your pocket and putting it in Uncle Sam’s.

While we may want some form of drivers education, or a licensing process to ensure drivers can be held accountable for bad actions — there is no dispute that the department of motor vehicles is bad at their job. Unfortunately this agency has been granted a monopoly on enforcement, and has no incentive to improve. Whether we like it or not, we show up to pay our fees, or we place our families at risk. There is no upside, especially for the poor and vulnerable who feel these costs worse than most.

Pointing out the many failures of the DMV is no niche joke. Hundreds upon thousands of times in pop culture and personal conversations, the DMV has been mocked as one of the most inefficient parts of government. From the Simpsons to Seinfeld, hating the DMV is something we can all agree on.

The simple answer is often the best: it’s time to eliminate the DMV.

We’ve been waiting long enough.

pro liberty. Director of Comms and Development at a law firm. Adjunct Professor at a university. all opinions are my own.

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