Motor vehicle offices shift to online

Officials in New Jersey and other states are driving more motor vehicle processes onto the Web, helping to cut back on long lines and endless paperwork.

Margaret Kane Former Staff writer, CNET News
Margaret is a former news editor for CNET News, based in the Boston bureau.
Margaret Kane
3 min read
Karen Mitterando is not a die-hard techie. She hasn't purchased anything online, and she's nervous about paying her taxes online.

But the Piscataway, N.J., resident did check out the Net after a recent move, logging on to the state motor vehicle site to fill out change of address forms and renew her registration.

"We were nervous at first, but we saw this disclaimer about (the state's) privacy act and that it's a secure site. We figured we had to try it anyway to get into the next century," she said. "It worked great. It was very simple; you just follow all the steps they tell you to and put in all your information. It takes a few minutes to register, and it's complete."

Officials in New Jersey and other states are counting on winning over more people like Mitterando as they move more and more motor vehicle processes online.

For many people, making a trip to the registry or bureau of motor vehicles is a dreaded chore, with long lines and long forms. But some of the most common procedures performed by the bureaus are easily adapted to the Internet.

The interest is likely there, said Julie Ask, an analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. A recent survey the company conducted found that of the 123 million automotive consumers online, 35 percent were interested in scheduling maintenance appointments online, a task not so far removed from say, renewing a registration.

"The primary reasons (automotive) consumers go online is for the convenience and ability to do (their research and shopping) any day of week," she said. "Renewing your registration is the same kind of thing. We all know it's a major hassle to go down and wait in line for three hours."

And states are stepping up to the plate. More than 40 states offer the ability to download forms, for instance, and more than 30 allow drivers to renew vehicle registration online, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Other areas offer more complicated services such as scheduling a driver's test (Washington, D.C., New York and Wisconsin), paying tickets (Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey), or even changing organ donor status (Virginia).

Gartner analysts Bill Keller and Gregg Kreizman say collaboration will improve government-to-citizen services generally, not just for homeland security.

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The initial incentive to move these processes online was a way to improve customer service, said Renee Dejewski, e-government coordinator at the AAMVA. Of course, then the state DMVs realized the same thing that other businesses have: Allowing consumers to serve themselves online saves money.

"As they started going through the process they realized it saves money with personnel, not maintaining field offices; the more people online, the less you have in the field office," Dejewski said.

Some cost savings come in other areas. In Massachusetts, for instance, state officials devised a way to automatically send new registrations when someone changed their address online. The state was able to use the same technology for changes of address entered manually by clerks in field offices or ones that came in over the telephone; and it was able to get rid of the manual envelope stuffing that had previously taken place, said David Shaw, spokesman for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

And citizens have generally been accepting of the new services. New Jersey added the ticket-paying feature (handled through the state's administrative office of the courts) in January, and had 494 of the 536 municipal courts up and running by January. In May, New Jersey traffic violators made 3,997 payments online for fines totaling $188,034.50.

"I don't think we expect it to fully replace the courts, but it's an additional option for people who like using the Internet, or who are running up against a deadline," said spokeswoman Tammy Kendig. "You can get online late at night or during the day without having to leave work."