Saturday, December 2, 2017

Deconstructing the Department of Motor Vehicles

As I stand in line waiting for the DMV to open, I wonder how the experience could be improved. Online services have helped tremendously, reducing workload for "Patty and Selma" behind the desk.  Permits have to be renewed in person less frequently than in the past. But sometimes you still have to go to the DMV, MVA, or whatever it's called in your state.

How about privatizing? No, this is not a libertarian antigovernment screed; I'm referring to the customer-facing services. The government definitely has a role in ensuring safety of vehicles and their operators on public roads. But going to the DMV still stings.

The driver's license or ID card is an important document that allows people onto airplanes and into other secure facilities. How could you trust a private firm to issue IDs? On behalf of the federal government,  private Acceptance Agents check identity documents for the IRS, notaries give a seal of witness to legal documents, and contractors perform security screening in lieu of the TSA in places like San Francisco, and at a number of small airports. Ditto the rationale for registering car titles and license plates.

And would shady companies look the other way on tests? Computer based testing, typically arranged by the firms Prometric and Pearson Vue, is used for knowledge tests in issuing certificates and licenses to skilled tradesmen and professionals. No clerk can nudge you up to a passing grade. A simulator would objectively evaluate driving skills versus a subjectively-graded road test. However, a simulator seems to be a disservice to 16-year olds when this 20-minute test allows for a lifetime of driving. So, okay, you'd go to the DMV for that road test.

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