The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles: Stupider Than Church

I recently had my wallet stolen, which sucks.  I also suspect, since I cannot find my social security card, that it never got taken out of my wallet after I brought it into work during my first week.  Balls.

So I have to replace my driver’s license and other documents.  As a hopefully somewhat clever person who places a premium on my time, I called ahead to ask a simple question: my last driver’s license was in MO, will that be an issue?  I was assured that it wouldn’t be.  My boss watched me make that call.  Awesome, so that means I just needed to provide the proper ID.  Better check the state web site to see what qualifies.

Ok, great!  Glad it won’t be difficult.  I had already canceled my debit card with the bank and a new one was in the mail.  I already have my birth certificate so as soon as it came in the mail I would be golden.  Well, yesterday it came, so this morning I got up at the crack of dawn and looked up the closest BMV (DMV for Ohioans).

This is the location the web site gave me as the closest to my house, so I threw on my gay, wintery apparel and set off for 3rd St.  I arrived at 8:05 AM to find an empty shell of a building.  No desks, no people, even the termites looked like they had no use for it.  Thank Science for smartphones.  I looked up the next closest location and set off.

20 minutes later I walked into the new location and immediately saw a sign saying they only accepted cash and checks.  I had $5 on me so I went to the on-location ATM to extract $20.  The ATM charged me $4.50 for the privilege, but I was already going to be late to work so I did it.  When I got up to the counter I saw the price for a replacement license was $27, not $24.50.  So I went back and handed the state another $4.50 it didn’t earn.

When I reached the counter a second time I told the lady I was there for a replacement license.  She asked me if I had a form of ID such as a birth certificate, social security card, credit card, etc.  I told her I had a birth certificate and a credit card.  She told me she only needed to see one of them, so I handed her my card.  She gave me a number and asked me to go wait.

I sat for about a half hour, which I mostly spent tweeting about what unforgivable and austere clusterfuck the BMV was.  When my number was called I reported to stall 13 where a very pleasant woman asked me to fill out a form.  I did so.  She then asked me for my birth certificate and social security card.  I explained to her that I didn’t have a social security card, but that I did have a birth certificate in addition to the debit card she was holding.  She informed me that the debit card wasn’t enough and that I would need to take my birth certificate down to the Social Security Office which was “just down the road”.  There they would give me a print out of my social security info that I could use to get a state ID, which I could then take back to the social security office to get a new social security card.

To repeat, my birth certificate was insufficient to get my a social security card.  I had to go show my birth certificate to someone who would give me a piece of paper that has the same power as a social security card in getting me a state ID, which I could then use to get a social security card.  *head desk*

She then asked me for my social security number and attempted to look me up in her computer.  After a few minutes she scrunched her face into a look of confusion and told me she couldn’t find me.  I told her that my last license was in Missouri and that I had called ahead and was told that wouldn’t be an issue.  Turns out, it is.  This left me with two options.

1.  To take a skills test and get a fresh Ohio driver’s license

2  To call the Missouri DMV and have them fax a copy of my driver’s abstract to the Ohio location

I opted for the latter and the nice lady gave me the number for the Missouri DMV and the fax number for the location I was at.  She also sympathized and told me that when I came back to not bother with taking a number and to just walk up to her stall.  I thanked her for her help and left.

Outside I dialed the number for the Missouri DMV and got an automated voice giving me three options, none of which was anything close to what I needed.  I hit zero, hoping to get a real human being, but instead it repeated the three options.  I waited, hoping I would get a real person that way, but after a minute it began to repeat the three options.  In order to exorcise some frustration I yelled “Fuck off!” into the phone.  The automated voice immediately stopped and hold music began.

Eventually Ron came on the other end.

Ron:  How are you today?

Me:  I’m living the dream, Ron.  Yourself?

Ron:  I’m alright.  What can I help you with today.

Me:  I need you to fax a copy of my driver’s abstract to the Ohio BMV.  I have the fax number when you’re ready for it.

Ron:  Ok, I can’t do that here.  I need you to fill out a form online that needs to be notarized.  After that it will take at least 24 hours to process and there’s a $20 fee on that.

Me:  $20 to send a fax?

Ron:  Yes, sir.

Me:  Thanks Ron, that’s all I need.  Have a good day.

Here’s a quick economics break.  Why does a capitalism/socialism hybrid, like what we see in pretty much every civilized country (including this one) work?  For a lot of reasons, but one of them is because those two schools of thought work for different things.  Capitalism is splendid for non-necessities like, say, milk.  If sellers charge too much for milk, people will just go without it, so sellers have to try and keep the price nice and low.  This doesn’t work for things like, say, insulin.  People will buy roughly the same amount of insulin no matter what the price.  They have to.  So if you have five suppliers selling insulin in a purely capitalist system, what is the smarter thing to do: fight with each other for who can sell a $2 shot of insulin for the lowest price and see who can produce the most of the meager profits or for all of them to charge $100 a shot and everybody gets rich?  Yes, that’s a cartel, but it still happens.

Necessities are where socialism steps in.  By regulating necessities, it keeps people from getting gouged for their insulin.  However, it only works when the regulating body (i.e., the government) has our best interests in mind.  Here we have a case where the government is the sole provider of a service (faxing my driver’s abstract) and instead of regulating it in my best interest has said “Fuck it, charge ‘em $20 and let’s make some scratch for Uncle Sam.”  This makes me yearn for a chance to meet Uncle Sam in a cage match.  I’m damn sure not handing him more money he didn’t do shit to earn.

So fine, I’ll just take the damn skills test and get a new license.  So I set off for the Social Security Administration’s office which was “just down the road”.  After almost a half hour of driving from downtown Columbus I finally arrived at this isolated, but thriving piece of metropolis.

So I went inside and waited another hour, all the while texting my boss and apologizing profusely that I was running so late.  I finally got my print out and decided to call it a day on this project and began the 30 minute drive back into civilization and my job.  Some day next week I’ll get to pick this back up and fight with the bureaucracy some more.  Maybe after long enough I’ll just say fuck it and go live in the wilderness.

I have a prodigious appreciation for science, but all the scientific instrumentation in all the world would be woefully inadequate to measure the breadth of my contempt for the Ohio BMV this morning.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Jessica

    It was probably all because you got reported to stall 13. Unlucky number, you know.

  • Ember

    My father in law passed away recently, leaving behind two cars my husband and I have been trying to re-title in our names. All I can conclude by the way the Arkansas DMV treated me on the phone when seeking information is that they suspect I killed him myself.

    I am generally very polite to public service people because I know they have shitty jobs, but this didn’t seem to matter to the woman I talked to at the DMV. Every question I asked proved to her that I was a waste of space and an idiot for not knowing how to do this already. She seemed particularly pissed that my father in law didn’t have a will stating the cars should go to my husband. Ok, yeah, everybody should have a will, but making life for the DMV easier wasn’t at the top of his priority list the last few months of his life. He was busy, you know, trying to fight cancer.

    Anyway, the point is, DMVs/BMVs are terrible, soul-sucking places for everyone involved. Let us know what taking a driving test as an adult is like!

  • Leo Buzalsky

    Here we have a case where the government is the sole provider of a service (faxing my driver’s abstract) and instead of regulating it in my best interest has said “Fuck it, charge ‘em $20 and let’s make some scratch for Uncle Sam.” This makes me yearn for a chance to meet Uncle Sam in a cage match.

    Well, what’s really going on here is that Uncle Sam is cutting the funding to these service providers. The service providers, in the need to, you know, provide services have to then figure out how to make their ends meet with a tighter budget. So, they get approval from Uncle Sam to raise their rates.

    Just remember that the voter still has the final word on who makes the decisions on those funding decisions.

    • LarryD

      Actually, in MO, the DL services have been privatized… what that means is that you get the same crappy service (or worse) at a much, much higher price. Enjoy that…

  • Kate from Iowa

    It could be worse!


    In the meantime, what the hell are you going to do if you get pulled over?

  • noastronomer

    Not sure why you thought Ohio BMV would re-issue a Missouri license. And never *ever* trust anything anyone working for the government tells you over the phone.


  • noastronomer

    Also, you have remember the job of people at the BMV/DMV is to stop you from getting a drivers license or registering a car. If their job was to give you a drivers license they’d just hand them out on street corners.

  • Aquaria

    In the meantime, what the hell are you going to do if you get pulled over?

    The cops will ticket you, but most traffic court judges will let you get off scot-free if you can provide some proof of the state shafting you in your quest to obtain a drivers license. All he’ll need is the incident report that the police wrote up, and the efforts to get the license.

    I’ve had them drop tickets here in San Antonio when I got stopped for not having the inspection sticker on my car. Right outside of a windshield repair center. You can’t get an inspection sticker without a windshield here in Texas. Well, you could, but I don’t know the people who do that sort of thing. You have to know someone who knows someone who knows the people who can get you a legit inspection sticker with no inspection.

  • carolw

    Yelling “fuck off” into the phone when you’re in an endless menu loop actually does get you to a human. Just drop an F-bomb when zero doesn’t work and you get a person, really.

    • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

      If you’re not quite in a swearing mood, saying “representative” also usually works. Although it’s much less cathartic.

  • Kay

    The Ohio BMV always thinks my birth certificate is fake since it’s a military one (and thus a different format than civilian) and has giant state of Alaska outline on it. The double take always earns a reply of “Yes, it’s real.” Oh bureaucracy, how I abhor thee.

  • Pete

    Sorry you had a bad experience.

    The website you went to isn’t the state website. At the very top of, it says “ is a privately owned website…”

    Here’s the real Ohio BMV website:

    Here’s the page showing acceptable identification:
    The Secondary Documents column indicates (at the top) that you have to have documentation of your Social Security Number on a secondary document if it’s not on your primary document. One way to get this is to go to a Social Security Office.

    I’ll admit that the driver’s license fees are a bit odd. You pay one amount for the license and another amount for the Deputy Registrar Transaction Fee. Details are in the left column of this page:

  • aspidoscelis

    In New Mexico we have both public and private MVD services. So you can choose: save $30 and get appalling, mind-numbingly slow and inefficient service that induces homicidal fantasies, or fork it over to the private guys and get on with your life. I went for the first option, once…

    Having the public MVD serves the purpose, I think, of forcing the private services to provide a better experience. “Cheap and dismal” is already covered; to get customers to fork over the extra cash, they’ve no choice but to actually be helpful and efficient.

  • Craig McGillivary

    Dude you went to the wrong website. The Ohio BMV has its own website and they aren’t really responsible for the fact that is out of date. The main thing the BMV seemed to do wrong here is not be open during more convenient hours. Missouri shouldn’t have wanted to charge you for faxing your drivers abstract. Also Ohio’s new voter ID law sucks.

  • coragyps

    My birth certificate is from China (but in English) and has a parchment-like attachment with a huge red ribbon and with US Secretary of State Dean Atcheson’s signature. It does not get a good reception in either Oklahoma or Texas.

  • ryankitko

    I feel your pain. When I moved to Olympia, WA and flipped the title so I could register it there, the DMV worker accused me of stealing my car simply because I had the title, having owned it outright without financing. Apparently that’s rare enough that when a new denizen of their state presents a title from another state, the only possible explanation is theft!

    Luckily there was no skills test when moving to WA. However, I had moved from PA to OH in 2005 and took the skills test to get my OH license. I moved back to OH in 2007 after living in WA and had to take the skills test again. Really. I concur, stupider than church.

  • bob

    Oh there’s plenty of bureaucracy in the wilderness too. Zoning, no camping rules. Gotta have a permit for that. Building codes, plenty of interesting surprises the enforcement officers will pop on you if they catch you *overexistin’ on us* trying to be all *freeishy* and assertin’ your rights and shit on us.

    And remember, you live in a sheltered bubble. If you really want to see some bureaucracy, try doing something only poor people tend to do. Then you will realize that inaction is the norm, and only with enough sheer inexorable pressure from the public is the possibility to get anything done opened and forced to remain open. And poor people don’t tend to exert much pressure.

  • jaxkayaker

    I can beat that, especially given the mistakes you made on your end, JT (not really a replacement, not visiting the official website, etc.). I was renewing (not replacing) my Florida license. I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, I’ve had a license since I turned 16. I was not permitted to use my existing, expiring license as identification for my renewal. I needed, in part, my birth certificate. The birth certificate can be obtained by mailing in a signed request form and a photocopy of the driver’s license.

    Just think about that. I can’t use my old driver’s license with my photograph as ID for renewal, but I can use it to get a birth certificate, which doesn’t have any useful identifying information on it. It has my name, but no way to verify that that is the name of the person holding it.

    Oh, and my car wouldn’t start on the day I set aside to accomplish this task, the day before expiration of the old license, a Friday (thus effectively the last day to renew before expiration), so I walked two miles to the nearest license bureau only to find that it had closed three weeks earlier. Apparently, the state is closing its offices and devolving license responsibility to the county tax collectors. So I got to walk a battery two miles back to my apartment, but not in time to drive to another bureau before closing. When I next visited a bureau, I found the next nearest one (which I was previously aware of and had considered walking to instead of the one I actually did walk to) closed and moved as well.

  • Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    I feel extremely lucky. My mum’s birthday was earlier this month, so she had to get a whole bunch of stuff done. We went to a garage for an emissions test on her car (she had to pay for that of course, not sure how much exactly), but it only took about fifteen minutes. Then she went online and got accurate information about the documents she’d need and filled out the forms the government of Ontario sent her by mail. Then we popped down to the Service Ontario office and waited in line for about five minutes, tops. She got her car registration done, her licence renewed, and her health card renewed in about ten minutes (including pictures for both taken). She paid with Interac (I don’t know that you have the equivalent there in the US–it doubles as an ATM card and debit card that’s linked directly to your bank accounts and nearly everyone who takes cash has the ability to take Interac), something in the neighbourhood of $100 for all three. Not bad. And done for another couple of years.

  • cmv

    A few years ago my wife had her purse stolen. She had just sent her Permanent Resident card off for renewal, and would need her DL as photo ID to get he new one back (never mind that her photo was on the new card). Unfortunately, BC requires proof of legal residency in order to get a replacement DL. Needed one to get the other, and the other to get the first.
    It was the Immigration that blinked and allowed her to use her foreign passport as primary ID. Never mind that on renewal you don’t have to prove residency to get a DL, only if you lost your card.

  • Flimsyman

    I feel your pain. I experience the exact same thing over this last year, ever since I got robbed with my social security card in my wallet. This was around the same time that I moved from Illinois to Missouri, and also when I legally changed my name. Yeah, talk about a bureaucratic clusterfuck.

    That one was the worst: You cannot get a Social Security card without a state ID (like a driver’s license). The reverse of that is also true. The solution?

    Exactly as you said, you have to show the huge pile of other forms of ID that you have (birth certificate, debit and credit cards, marriage license, notarized motherfucking court documents) at the Social Security office. They literally typed out on a piece of paper the sentence, “Our records indicate that (name) has the valid Social Security identification of (SS number).” You have to take that piece of paper to the licensing office, where they can then give you a photo ID. In my case, because I didn’t have a copy of my Illinois license (also stolen in my wallet, obviously), I had to accept a basic state photo ID, which I then had to take to get my Social Security card, which I then could use to get my license.

    **big vein in my head explodes**