Why the freak show at DMV/license/vehicle registration offices?

Whenever I’ve visited the state DMV office to get a driver’s license or register my car, almost all of the people waiting in the office look like they’re straight off the screen of a COPS episode. Every state I lived in, no matter that the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood are – high-income suburban, diverse urban, middle-class exurban – the crowd is the same. I’m wondering … why?

That is the best way to get the face of your very general area because most people drive and most have DMV issues their have to address. Most people are shielded somewhat in the people they come into contact with on a daily basis through their job, neighborhood, or schools. I see a freak show when I go too and that is what I came up with. The other issue is that the DMV typically takes so long that you get to stare at people up and down sometimes for hours to give the bad ones a good mental critique.

Last time I went, though, I thought to myself beforehand “okay, look at everybody, so I can avoid selection bias.” Nope. About 90% of those in line, give or take, looked like they appeared at one time or another on COPS; it was a parade of mullets, morbidly obese feeder moms with five kids in tow, and the like. The license bureau office was located in a middle-class neighborhood, too.

Maybe because more upwardly-mobile folks do a lot of that routine stuff like renew their driver’s licenses and change their addresses online now. The folk you’re seeing are those who either don’t have internet access or don’t know you can use it for more than porn.


I’d say many of these people might tend to have more DMV type related issues. If they’re lower middle class or below, they might constantly have license suspension issues because of the inability to pay tickets. Thus, their license gets suspended and starting an seemingly endless cycle of DMV trips. They make a partial payment and get the license renewed. Then they miss a payment and their license is suspended again. Back to the DMV.

Some of them may prefer to pay for their registrations in cash and in person, as opposed to more affluent types that may prefer to do it by mail or online.

Also, what time of day do you go to the DMV? If you go on a Saturday morning, you’ll see a lot of the M-F 9-5’ers in line to renew their license (in MD, I believe we can renew by mail every other time we need to renew), so the atmosphere is a little more upscale. If you go in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday, you’ll see the people who aren’t at work in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday.

Let us know when you go in and find people drinking from a flask, coke being snorted and hookers with a John. Please tell us the location so we can avoid it.

It depends on which one you go to! The inner-city one, or the one in the small town up the river a bit.

Around here we get that if we go to the Albany DMV, and surly workers who seem to get docked pay if you ever get all your work done at one time. When you go to the Troy DMV, people are so nice it’s scary and they call you over “Please come on! I’m ready for anything!”

Needless to say I have stopped going downtown.

This is what I’m thinking. I just got my renewal, and I’m going to do it online. I can’t recall the last time I physically went inside a DMV office.

When I go, it’s to renew a driver’s license (have to take a new photo, so it must be done in person) or register a car. In Ohio, I have to show proof of an E-Check emissions text every other year; I renew online during non-E-Check years, but I think appearing in person is a must when it’s E-Check time. I usually go during a lunch break from work.

Some good points, though:

  1. Going during weekday mornings and afternoons, when nine-to-fivers are at work.
  2. The folks that have more DMV “issues” such as suspended licenses are likely to be the “officer, I swear that meth isn’t mine!” crowd.
  3. The folks do can’t renew their registration online: the same.