The Great American Affair

We went to get our car title and driver’s licenses transferred the other week.  It was curious to me that this seemed to involve more paperwork than buying the house had.  And to have a baby, a helpless human being for which you are completely responsible for the next 18 years, requires no paperwork at all, although the hospital checks to make sure you have a child safety seat before you drive it home.

I spent several hours searching various web sites, with pages of step-by-step instructions and caveats.  (For the curious, the Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license page and vehicle license page.)  Once upon a time in a previous life, when I was in charge of organizing state government information on the web, one of my tests for a good state government web site or search was how easily one could find information on getting a driver’s license.  This was in the days before Google, in the early days of Alta Vista (for those of you over 30 who remember Alta Vista), and finding anything depended on the humans who constructed the sites.  I used to check regularly on various states to see how Texas compared.  In some states, it was impossible to find anything.  Today, West Virginia passes with flying colors – typing “wv driver’s license” into Google pops up detailed instructions, in second place after, a commercial site advertising insurance and whatnot that has managed to get itself to the top of the list for title and license information for any state.

It became clear that there were a number of steps that needed to be followed in the correct order, in order to avoid going to any one office twice.  I made a chart of what was required and all the dependencies. It is necessary to have a form from the county assessor that you have reported the vehicle for the personal property tax to avoid the 5% privilege tax (West Virginia’s name for the sales or transfer tax on vehicles, but driving in West Virginia is hardly a privilege, since public transportation is virtually non-existent in most places and it is generally too far to walk).  As I recalled from my youth, the assessor requires proof of insurance.  The DMV merely required two proofs of West Virginia residence (deed, rental agreement, utility bills; if you live with parents or otherwise are not paying rent or utilities directly, you have to have an affadavit from the person who is); two proofs of identity(a Social Security card and a birth certificate); a declaration of insurance coverage; the car title; and the form from the assessor.  Texas is one of the few states with reciprocal inspections, so at least we didn’t have to have the car inspected.

Obviously the correct order was the insurance office, the assessor’s office, and then the DMV.  So we gathered together our documents and set off.  We accomplished the first two steps in a single afternoon, and the next day, went off to the DMV, where you start by going to the information desk to have your particular procedure explained.  I was so proud when they said “…and you can save yourself a lot of money by…” that I interrupted and said “Yes, I know, we’ve already been to the assessor’s office.”

We proceeded to the driver’s license desk,  presented our various proofs that we were us and now lived in West Virginia, filled out forms, took the vision test, read the pamphlet on drinking and driving, presented our proofs again, turned in our Texas licenses, and were passed on to the desk where we presented the old title and the new title form, presented our proofs again, paid money, got our license plate and a temproary registration card, and were sent to wait for our photos.  We were photographed and finger-printed (optional) and then received our licenses (an improvement over Texas, which mails them, sometimes taking six weeks.)  The whole thing didn’t take much over an hour.  The new title came in the mail just a week later.

Of course, the insurance agent needed a copy of the registration card, which we couldn’t get until we had the proof of insurance to get the registration.  So we had to go back to the insurance agency – but hey, it could have been worse.