State Department of Motor Vehicles: All You Need to Know

The Department of Motor Vehicles

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is a state-level government agency in the United States.

The DMV administers vehicle registration, vehicle titles, driver licensing, and license renewal for all states except Hawaii, which delegates these functions to local government. The Uniform Vehicle Code and most state governments prefer to use the name "Department of Motor Vehicles" to describe the agency. However, the name "DMV" is not used in every jurisdiction, and the traditional DMV functions may vary for each state.

Regulations and Exceptions.

Long-term residents (30 days or more) of a jurisdiction who want to operate any motor vehicle must have a driver's license issued by their state DMV. Other requirements include license plates and registration stickers. This general rule applies to everyone except active duty armed forces personnel.

According to federal law, service members do not need to change their legal residence even when relocating to a new base unless they voluntarily do so. These individuals have the option to use license and vehicle registration obtained from the DMV listed in their official address.

Some states allow out-of-state university students to use their existing driver's license and vehicle registration. Federal government vehicles do not register with the DMV, but the General Services Administration. However, drivers of government vehicles must get a license from their state DMV.

The Office of Foreign Missions at the State Department runs a Diplomatic Motor Vehicles program that takes care of licenses, vehicle registration, and special plates for foreign diplomats.

Responsibilities of the DMV.

Motor vehicle

  • Driver's Licenses and Identification.

Unlike countries that use a national identification card, driver's licenses have become the most commonly used identification card system in the United States. To that end, the DMV has become the de facto agency responsible for identity verification in their respective states.

  • Vehicle Registration.

State-level DMVs regulate and provide a vehicle's temporary tag or permanent vehicle registration number. DMVs also run vehicle registration programs that track and record detailed vehicle information to prevent car-related felonies like odometer fraud. Many DMVs allow third parties to handle the paperwork and issue registration materials.

Companies that specialize in the application and registration process include tag agents and car dealerships. Tag agents have direct access to DMV systems, and car dealers use the electronic vehicle registration (EVR) program in their state DMV.

  • Driver Certification.

A written and hands-on driving test conducted by the state DMV or equivalent agency are requirements to earn a driver's license. In some states, the DMV also regulates private driving schools and their professional instructors.

All DMVs issue a version of the Driver's Manual that applies to their specific state. Part of a driver's responsibility is reading the contents of the manual and abide by it at all times. The DMV tests a driver's knowledge of the Driver's Manual before issuing a permit or license.

  • Vehicle Ownership.

Each local DMV issues a vehicle title as certification for vehicle ownership. Not all types of machines can be certified and will vary per state. Most land vehicles fall under the purview of the DMV. The responsibility to issue boat titles, off-road vehicles, and mobile homes may fall under other agencies like the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Because the DMV issues vehicle titles, they are also responsible for recording liens made on a secured loan that uses an automobile as collateral.

  • Law Enforcement.

The enforcement of federal and state laws regarding motor vehicles is also part of the DMV's duties. Most states have dedicated law enforcement officers tasked to enforce DMV regulations. DMV law enforcement officers usually investigate fraud, auto, and license theft. They have greater flexibility because of the power to revoke driver's licenses and registration tags.

Reporting an Accident to the DMV.

car accident reporting

Accidents causing minor property damage usually involves an exchange of information between the parties involved. The person who caused the damage is responsible for locating and notifying the owner of the damaged property. If the owner can't be found, the incident must be reported to the police, and the officer will complete a formal Police Report.

An incident must be reported to the DMV within ten days if the amount of property damage exceeds $1,000. Failure to do so can lead to fines, jail time, and the suspension of a person's driver's license. This report is called a Traffic Accident Report.

If there are injuries or fatalities because of the accident, it must be reported to the police immediately, and a report must be filed with the DMV. Failure to report can lead to criminal charges, as well as the suspension of a person's driver's license and registration.

The DMV is legally obligated to keep a copy of the car accident report, and anyone involved in the accident can obtain a copy by visiting their local DMV.