07 June 2016

[liff] Tales of the DMV, Which Changed its Name to DMV Some Time Back

The DMV. A verity of adult life. If you want to legally drive, you'll find yourself there.

The mere name is a verity. Over on the site DMV.org, a privately-run clearing house of links to DMV information for all 50 states of the Union, I randomly clicked several states and as often as not, the name DMV ... Department of Motor Vehicles ... was the name of the agency in each state which handled titling and registering of cars and trucks as well as licensing of drivers. Almost every one had either DMV, some combination of another letter (BMV, in New Mexico, for Bureau of Motor Vehicles) or MVD (which is also what the Russians call their Ministry for Internal Affairs, a coinage one must accept as coincidental).

That last sentence points up a certain conception of the DMV as a thing that must be endured. A friend, long ago, remarked that Hell is an immense DMV waiting room, and your number will never be called. We all have bad memories of a DMV encounter. This year not only have I had to renew my ODL, but also process a new title and registration for the new Little Yellow Beetle that we now have. And I approached the event with more than a little apprehension.

The Oregon DMV has undergone such changes, though. I went in apprehensive and left delighted. The keynote seems to be on efficiency, speed, and friendly service. I got my ODL renewed in record time, and the title transfer application and registration were of almost sublime efficiency. Would it that all less important services were delivered with such aplomb.

Today we spent maybe 30 minutes in that building. It was a Tuesday morning, though, and that's kind of a slack time for them. It probably drags a little during high demand, but I'll be they're pretty good at handling that too. The sincerely-smiling, genuinely-helpful people there are probably a match for any problem you threw at them.

And, noting that I'm registering a 1972 VW Beetle, the clerk asked, with an impish glint in the eye, "You picked a name out for her yet?"

We haven't. But we're working on it.

The real inspiration for this ruminance, though, was the name. DMV. I'd noticed that the mere abbreviation seems to be a near-universal cultural token ... even Marge's sisters in The Simpsons work as clerks at the DMV. And I, as well as you, my dear reader, probably think we know what those three letters in Oregon stand for: Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Well, no. As it turns out, it's not Dept of Motor Vehicles; it's not really a Department; it's a Division (there are two major levels of Oregon state government agency. The top level is Department, and Departments are comprised of Divisions). The official name of the DMV in Oregon, is the Driver and Motor Vehicle Division, and its under ODOT, the Oregon Dept of Transportation, which is proper and logical.

Anyone devising the branding here can appreciate the cleverness. DMV changed its name, but still gets to call itself DMV. The iconic connection is maintained, the social concept token intact and involate. You need license and reg, you still go to the DMV.  I still can't determine when the official name-change occurred, though; all the time when I was growing up, the Dept of Motor Vehicles coinage seemed correct, my memory reports to me, even when it wasn't a state Department.

And there's yet another interesting thing that I turned up. The DMV hasn't been a Department since 1969, long before I started driving. It was only a Department from 1956 to 1969, before that, it was under the wing of the Oregon Secretary of State, and after that, a part of ODOT.

But to me, it'll always be the DMV, no matter what the initialism actually stands for. The DMV ... a fact of life, and one that works pretty well.

And so it goes.

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