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What Is the Bureau of Motor Vehicles?

by Maurice Spellbinder
  • Overview

    All vehicles must be begistered.
    In the United States a state-level government agency has developed over the years with the express purpose of administering vehicle registrations and issuing driver's licenses. Though in some cases it is referred to as the "Bureau of Motor Vehicles," it is more commonly referred to as the "Department of Motor Vehicles" or "DMV." This name and acronym are not universally used by all states, but as a generic term it is understood by most people as the agency that provides these services.
  • Exception

    Whereas all states provide the services of a "DMV" type agency, one state does not provide the agency as a state service. Hawaii has chosen to delegate the responsibility of vehicle registration and issuing driver's licenses to the county governments.
  • Not Always a Department

    Some states have not created a cabinet-level department specifically for performing the duties associated with the "DMV." Instead the "DMV" functions as a division within another government created department. For example in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin the "DMV" is actually a bureau that works under the department of Transportation. For Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico and Tennessee, the "DMV" is a function handled by the Department of Taxation and Revenue.
  • Federally-Owned Vehicles

    Federally owned vehicles must also be registered. In this special case, however, the vehicles are registered through the General Services Administration, not through a state run department. Unlike their vehicles, the drivers themselves must be licensed by their home state regardless of the vehicle they drive.
  • Distric of Columbia

    In the case of the District of Columbia, which is not a state in and of itself, nor part of any state, the "DMV" is actually part of the city government.
  • Foreign Diplomats

    In the case of foreign diplomats and their families, the U.S. Department of State, through the Office of Foreign Missions, has a Diplomatic Motor Vehicles program. Through this program foreign diplomats can register their vehicles and receive special diplomatic license plates.
  • Verification of Identity

    The United States does not issue an identification card like many other countries. The driver's license has become the means of providing a similar purpose in the U.S. Therefore the "DMV's" in the United States have also become the agencies responsible for dispensing identity within the several states.

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