At the DMV

Today the younger daughter takes the test for her Pennsylvania driver’s license.

This could take a while. But then it could be much, much worse.

One of the good things about growing up in New Jersey is that after experiencing the Garden State’s DMV, dealing with PennDOT almost seems pleasant.

The DMV — just a small part of the high cost of too-low taxes.

Update: Triumph! Success! Passage! I am now the parent of two licensed organ donors.

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  • Good luck to the Slacktiyoungster! (eesh, it’s been years since my driving test. I can’t remember exactly how nervous I was, though I did pass :) )

  • Michael Wendell

    I grew up in Jersey and thought Pennsylvania’s system was worse, but that could be related to specific locations. When I lived in (Western) PA the DMV was a tiny box of a building outside of a jail in Somerset. You also have to consider that, unlike NJ, PA only handles licensing issues, having offloaded most of the vehicle registration process to the private sector.

    I can say that Virginia and West Virginia, the other two states I have experience with, are both far better than either PA or NJ.

  • Magic_Cracker

    DMV? More like NKVD!

    I paid for those roads — the WHOLE road, not HALF– so making me drive on ONLY ONE side at a time is an uncompensated taking (i.e., STEALING) of half of MY road and giving it to dimwitted PARASITES too SLOW and STUPID to GET OUT OF MY WAY! And don’t tell me to “share the road” like we’re in Kindergarten (or as I like to call it “Communistergarten). KINDERGARTEN IS OVER, MISTER HERR COMRADE-KOMMISSAR PC POLICE NAZI STASI!!! — It’s time to GET REAL and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR SELF!  If you don’t like the way I drive, you have the FREEDOM to STAY HOME!!

  • PurpleAardvaark

    Pennsylvania DOT — where cash is not an acceptable form of payment.

  • Magic_Cracker

    So much for “all debts, private and public” — even the government knows its own FRAUDULENT FIAT PAPER MONEY is WORTHLESS! Did you now it’s NOT EVEN REAL PAPER?!?!

    /okay, chilling out now before I get Poed.

  • myeck waters

    NJ’s DMV got so bad that about ten years ago they completely abolished it and created a new one from scratch.  It’s starting to decline again, but it’s still far better than the old DMV was.

  • VMink

    I once dreaded the NY DMV, but they made a concerted effort to streamline it and make it more user-friendly. (Kind of like the makeover the IRS went through — the DMV and the IRS are now two of the more friendly government agencies I’ve had to work with.  Mind you, this is anecdotal and not a datum; YMMV.)

    Nevada’s DMV was even more pleasant to work with, though they gave me guff for how I, a new resident, pronounced ‘Nevada.’  (They’re… touchy… about that sort of thing.  They also don’t like ‘Darth Nevader’ jokes.  Shocking, I know.)

    California’s DMV is actually pretty keen; I stepped in there once, to get my new driver’s license.  All the rest of my dealings with it have been online.

    I’m sure my impressions of any of these departments would be significantly different if I was on the wrong side of how they interpret their regulations, but, still.

  • Jim Roberts

    I got my driver’s license without once passing a driver’s test, but, nevertheless, I feel your pain, Fred. Have spent a few hours in the DMV dealing with other stuff.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Serious response: It’s been more than 20 years since I took my driving test in central PA, so I can’t speak to the test centers here in the greater Pittsburgh area, but PennDOT’s driver’s licence centers (where you get your license renewed or your out-of-state license converted) have several convenient locations with early morning, evening and weekend hours, and service is relatively quick (not always friendly); but as PurpleAardvaark notes, they don’t take cash — I figure it’s to prevent theft.

  • Andrea

    Show of hands, whose states do vehicle registration renewal based on birth date, and whose do it based on last name?

  • Vermic

    So much for “all debts, private and public” — even the government knows its own FRAUDULENT FIAT PAPER MONEY is WORTHLESS! Did you now it’s NOT EVEN REAL PAPER?!?!

    Paging chris the cynic to this thread!  We need “Ron Paul at the DMV” flash fiction!

  • Magic_Cracker

    I’d prefer “Ron Paul and the DMV” slash fiction!

  • PatBannon

    We need “Ron Paul at the DMV” flash fiction!

    I’d prefer “Ron Paul and the DMV” slash fiction!

    Both! Both at once!

  • P J Evans

    In California, your DL is by your birth date, but your car’s registration is based on when it was registered the first time. (At one time, way back when, all the registrations expired at the same time; then there got to be too many cars for that, and they had to spread it across the year.)

  •  For the most part, my experience with  the NY DMV has also been quite pleasant, except for two points:

    1.  When I had to get my NY drivers license after moving here from PA, coming up with “six points of identification” was a real adventure.  Seriously, I had an easier time proving who I was in order to get my passport.
    2.  For whatever reason, my local DMV thought it would be a good idea to use church pews for seats in the waiting area.

  •  Huh?  I’ve registered vehicles in both Texas and Illinois.  In both states vehicle registration is based on when you do it, then every twelve months, boom, new vehicle registration.

    Drivers licenses are based on birthdate.  In both, I think, but I spent a year and a half in Texas, so I never had to renew.  In Illinois once you hit certain milestones you just need a new license every five years.

  • Isabel C.

    MA’s was hellish the first time I went in, insofar as they required everything but a DNA sample. I remember ranting a lot along the lines of: “Land deed? I’m TWENTY.” and “Electric bill? Like, on paper? This is THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, fools.” 

    Good luck to her! I can only hope they don’t require parallel parking where you are, because that was by far and away the worst part of my training. And I never use it now: I will drive around for an extra block or two and look for a space, instead.

  • Magic_Cracker

     I can only hope they don’t require parallel … I never use it now: I will drive around for an extra block or two and look for a space, instead.

    Sweet! More spots for us parallists!

  • P J Evans

     If I actually have to parallel-park, I try to find a spot next to an alley, a driveway, or a red zone/corner. It makes it so much easier to get in and out.

  • P J Evans

     In CA,the first issuance of a DL is good for three years from birth date; after that it’s four. But about every third time, you actually have to go in and get a new picture and one of their eye tests. (Last time, with an appointment, it took about 45 minutes, mostly waiting for the picture. And listening to the clerk at the counter patiently explaining to the older woman that no, she really did fail the street test, an officer noticed her, and they can’t change the result.)

  • Seamyst

    Having just moved to NJ from WV, I can say one positive thing about NJ DMV: they’re open on Saturdays (at least the four in my county), where the ones I went to in WV aren’t. Other than that…

  • redsixwing

     Owwww, my brain.

  • Figs

    That’s the very NJ DMV where I last had to renew my registration before I moved to MD. I got there and there was a line out the door. There was a police officer letting people in 5 at a time every once in a while. Once you got inside, you stepped into a snaking line and waited for 15-20 minutes to get up to a counter where someone would give you the form you needed. You then needed to fill out that form and, I kid you not, get back in the end of the line, outside, and wait through it again before being given a number.

  • LL

    What’s so bad about the NJ DMV? Crowded? Inefficient? Slow?

    You mean like all the other DMVs?

  • Seamyst

    In order to update my address for my credit report, I have to send in a bank statement or utility bill. Paper original; they won’t accept printouts of electronic statements or bills. I mean, really?

  • Andrea

    In both Michigan and Indiana, driver licenses are based on your birthdate. However, Michigan bases the vehicle registration on your birthdate, which never changes, and Indiana bases it on your last name, which not only can change, but in some circumstances can have the date change from year to year even for someone whose name stays the same (when they were adding extra months to the cycle to try to avoid BMV congestion).

  • In both Michigan and Florida, vehicle registration is based on birth date. This caused problems in Florida for my husband, because they messed up his birth date and wouldn’t believe him when he told them they messed up.

  • rrhersh

    I have mixed feelings about how Pennsylvania does things.  They have this system where it is pretty much impossible to go to them directly for anything except drivers license matters.  For everything else, like tags, you go to a local business specializing in this, who typically run couriers to Harrisburg.   I don’t actually know how the system developed, but it is as if  the system were initially so ridiculously user-unfriendly that small businessmen saw it as an opportunity to gather up a pile of applications, make the trip, and stand in line.  Eventually the system evolved to assume that this is the only way it is done.

    On the one hand, I resent in principle the notion that I have to pay a business to perform a routine government interaction.   On the other hand, they provide great service at reasonable prices.  The free marketers are right about some things, and open competition under some circumstances produces good results.  As icing on the cake, these tag & title businesses are generally locally owned, and seem to be the sort of business someone with limited capital can build with sweat equity.

    Whatever my qualms are in principle, in practice I like them so much that even now that I live in Maryland I still use one.  In  Maryland the MVA (what we wacky Marylanders call our DMV) is actually very good:  as painless as can reasonably be hoped.  But there are a few tag & title places.  The place I use is even better than the Pennsylvania ones.  They are competing with free and reasonably efficient, so they have to be fantastic.

  • That seems unnecessarily convoluted.  I think the idea of get car – get registered – get re-registered by this time next year is pretty eminently sensible and adding in other variables would just make things more confusing.

    Any idea why they do it that way?

  • I managed to avoid doing the parallel test in Texas because it was August and I’d forgotten my car had working A/C – it drained my engine and, as a beginning driver, I never went places where I might get stuck in traffic so keeping the windows down was enough. It was a ’77 Grand Prix – 17 feet long – and I lived in a Ft Worth suburb; the *only* place you’d ever need to parallel park was on the test itself.

    When the DPS officer said basically “no way in hell am I sitting here in this hot car while you park it” I did remember about the A/C – but I kept my mouth shut.

    Now (*) I have a Mini Cooper and I can park it in the smallest spots on the street.

    (*)well, up to 11:30 last night when someone 2 cars ahead of me decided that since the exit they wanted was blocked off, stopping was a better choice than heading over the Bay Bridge exit, and it became car 3 in a 4-car pileup where we all *almost* stopped in time…

  • Beroli


    In both Michigan and Florida, vehicle registration is based on birth
    date. This caused problems in Florida for my husband, because they
    messed up his birth date and wouldn’t believe him when he told them they
    messed up.

    This is by no means the biggest mistake they made when they issued my last (as in before the one I have now) license, however. No, the really big mistake? It didn’t mention I needed assistance (glasses) to drive.

    I’m quite thoroughly blind without my glasses.

  • A while back, I learned to parallel park a hearse in numerous rather tight spots (relatively). So now, I can freely scoff at y’all who fear the normal parallel parking. ;)

  • P J Evans

     For me it isn’t so much being afraid of it, as being afraid of the next driver to park, who may not leave enough room to get out without touching him.

  • ReverendRef

    Out here in OR i hear they do some weird stuff.  People who move into the state must provide an “original” birth certificate or some such thing.  It’s like the DMV was run by the birthers,  I can honestly say, though, that I don’t remember having the hassles other people have told me about.  They did make us all take written tests, however.

     My secretary’s name is Merle.  That’s her official name, it’s not short for anything.  She told me that when she moved out here and went to the DMV, the lady behind the counter insisted — INSISTED — that her name was spelled wrong.

    The DMV in Montana, however, was a breeze.  Went in, showed them my current license from my previous state, signed the form, smiled for the camera, and had my hardcopy license in about 15 minutes.  It was a lot like signing up for a Costco card.

  • David Starner

    Oklahoma varied depending on where you lived. In Enid, it was fine. In Stillwater, you didn’t set an appointment for a driving test, you called in between 7 and 8 and if you could get through early enough you could set an appointment for that day. If you could get through. (They did this because their appointment list was getting backed up for over a month.) Meaning that they offloaded their people to other state DMVs.

  • Are you me? I totally blew parallel parking when I did my driver’s exam :O

  • British Columbia has driver licencing and auto registration down to an art.

    1. Driver licencing – there’s at least one fast and efficient office in any given city or town (and even more, now that the government vehicle insurance company runs things) where you can do all your traffic fines, driver licencing, etc. I had to renew mine recently and it was shoop! – shoop! inside of 30 minutes.

    2. Registration – since the government insurance quasi monopoly requires you use them for all insurance up to $200k liability, your insurance and registration paperwork doubles for both. And as a result you can do reg. and ins. at practically any licenced insurance dealer. :D Result: Almost nil wait times to get new stickers for licence plates.

  • Boidster

    Vehicle registration (not DL) based on birth date seems an odd way to do
    it. So if you buy a new car in January, and your birthday is in June,
    is the initial registration only good for 6 months? I hope they
    pro-rate the fees.

    One benefit, I suppose, would be if you own multiple
    vehicles – all registrations can be done at once. Downside is all of the fees are also due at once.

    Nebraska is by original registration date. You get a month sticker for the plate (in the correct color for the year of expiration) and replace it with a sticker of whatever the new color is when you re-register. Every couple of years they come out with a completely new license plate design and everybody has to switch (unless you have a special plate i.e. Disabled Veteran, NU Huskers, etc.)

    I’m fortunate enough to own a ’67 classic, housed in California, which still has its original black-and-yellow plate, and its original 1967 year sticker. My cold, dead hands etc. etc.

  • banancat

    I live in Pennsylvania and the Harrisburg DMV is actually quite fantastic.  It’s large and well-staffed and you walk directly to an information desk where the person will direct you to one of several lines based on your need.  From there you take a ticket with a number and wait in a decent waiting room.  There is some waiting but it goes pretty fast because each line is set up for a different type of request so it’s more efficient.  It was many years and several cities later before I really understood all the DMV jokes.

    I had to parallel park as part of my driving test.  It was the first part of the test and if you failed it, they didn’t even take you out on the street.  I didn’t mind though because they had practice hours where you could practice on the actual spot where they would hold the test.  I parallel parked regularly when I lived in Center City Philadelphia for four years, and I still hate doing it.  I can’t do it if someone is watching or in the car with me to judge.  But it made me really appreciate lot parking and since that time I never complain about parking far away as long as there is actually a real spot to park.

  • The Ballard Driving Academy may or may not be funny to people outside Seattle.

    I hope it is the former.  :)

  • When I was taking my first DL exam in MN back in eightymumble the parallel parking was worth something like 10 points and you needed an 80 to pass, so parallel parking was not required. HOWEVER, if you tried and you tapped one of the flags with your bumper, that counted as an accident and you automatically failed. So if you had the rest of it down, the smart play was to not move the car and say done, and then you would get zero points but have no risk of the accident flunk.

    These days I can parallel park an Explorer when I have to, but I still try to avoid having to.

  • Arresi

     I don’t know, the one I go to (in Michigan) isn’t that bad. It can get crowded if there are lots of people, sure, but they go through people at a pretty rapid clip, and they aren’t inefficient – they have the important forms readily available, and the staff never seems to have any trouble solving problems. My only complaint is that there aren’t enough tables for people filling out forms. (Except for the testing area.)

  • Arresi

     Without knowing, if I had to guess, I’d say Michigan does it that way so that you can have driver registration, car registration, and (if necessary) voter registration in a single trip, with the deadline easily remembered yet staggered. I mean, it makes sense to me.  Can’t help you with the last name thing – I’ve never heard of that, and I have no idea why you’d put car registration on a different day from the driver registration. Wouldn’t people forget?

  • Ken

    I’ve not had any DMV problems in IL, though I did have a slightly alarming experience. When you renew your operator’s license, you take a number and wait.  There are different queues with letters (for age ranges, languages, handicapped, etc.).

    So I’m sitting there, and they call out the numbers served: A-184, F-281, D-147, ….  I notice this older gentleman gets up each time a number is called and goes to the front, where they carefully explain that no, he has number G-37 and they just called B-92, and he sits down, and does the same when the next number is called.

    And I’m sitting there hoping he’s just trying to jump the line by being a nuisance, because if he has that much mental confusion with the queues, I would really worry about him operating a vehicle.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Are there really people who claim that money isn’t real paper?

    Also, I found your ranting funny. No Poe-ing here. 

  • P J Evans

     I was behind a guy getting a DMV eye test, back when I returned to CA from Texas, and I was really hoping they’d fail him – he wasn’t paying any attention to the person who was giving the instructions and trying to record his answers.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I took my driving test from a private school in Texas, something called Safeway. 

    I learned later that they didn’t actually test us on multiple things that were on the DMV test, like parallel parking. I still have no idea how to parallel park. 

    Also, apparently we were supposed to have driving experience on one way roads, which the school didn’t give us. The only time I’ve ever even seen a one way road was when I was in downtown Houston and it confused the hell out of me. 

  • P J Evans

     We have the colored year stickers in California, also. Someone peeled on off my last car,and I had to have it replaced. They had to have used a knife or something similar, because it peeled off several stickers and the paint underneath. (It was more than three months to the next registration, so they didn’t hassle me about replacing it; it was just the minimum charge and one form.) I hope that some cop ran their plate….

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’ve had such an experience. I don’t often go by my legal name, because very few people manage to pronounce it right and yada yada, everyone knows the routine.

    But when I went to the DMV after moving to Arkansas to get an ID, the lady behind the desk insisted for 10 minutes that it was “Kara,” not “Cara,” and my birth certificate was wrong. She was going to refuse to give me an ID until I somehow went back to Texas, back in ’85, and ‘corrected’ my own birth certificate. 

    Luckily, her manager type person stepped in and okay’d my paperwork. 

  • US paper currency is printed on something called “rag paper”, which, as it turns out does not meet the industry standards to be considered “paper” in the technical sense (Same way that white chocolate and white pizza aren’t technically chocolate or pizza respectively.)