Why Is The DMV So Slow? (11 Reasons Why)

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Yasmin Fisher

Yasmin Fisher is a fashion-loving shopaholic who has spent the last 10 years in customer service. She loves finding great deals, and thrifting is one of her favorite weekend activities.

We’ve all been there: your license has expired and you’re dreading the inevitable long lines at the DMV. No matter what time of day you try to go, it’s a near certainty that you will have to wait.

When one of Disney’s most popular movies depicts DMV employees as slow-moving sloths, you know there is a problem with speed. If you’re wondering why is the DMV so slow, it’s all here.

Why Is The DMV So Slow?

1. Paper Documents

While many DMV forms can be downloaded and completed before arrival, customers either do not take advantage of this option.

Not many people have a printer anymore and some simply insist on in-person help. Unfortunately, paper documents are held by the Service Desk Representative.

To get to that Representative and begin filling out your forms, you will most likely have to wait in line and make sure to have a pen.

2. Documents Must Be 100% Accurate

The Department of Motor Vehicles deals in legal and government documents that require accuracy to be completed.

Since most documents are filled out manually, they are often subject to human error.

If a mistake is made anywhere on a form, the form must be filled out again. Add up several mistakes in a row and you have the perfect formula for more time spent at the DMV.

3. Arriving Unprepared

Most people know that they will need to provide some proof of identification to finalize their transaction at the DMV, but many ignore the specific requirements of the DMV’s 6-Point ID.

There are also several documents or pieces of personal information you likely need but have not compiled together.

If you are missing either your license plate number, your insurance, your drivers license, or proof of address, you may be in for a longer wait.

Unfortunately, people learn that they have the wrong documents after they’ve been analyzed by a DMV employee. Many will try to argue their case, but with the DMV, there is no wiggle room.

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Back of the long line you go.

4. Lack Of Funding

The DMV is funded through taxpayer dollars, and as an occasional service, reinventing the DMV is not high on the list of taxpayer priorities.

The DMV’s relatively small budget means that there is no extra money to spend on system improvements.

This means that the technology software used to process things like vehicle registration is likely outdated and inefficient.

A low, fixed budget also means running on a skeleton staff most of the time. There isn’t any supplemental funding for additional hires to clear any backlog or speed up the process.

Also, this skeleton staffing can really bung things up if one of the staff takes a vacation or sick day. There isn’t usually a roster of employees to call in when the DMV is down one person.

If you’re there when one less service desk is open, your day just got longer.

5. Employee Pay

Not to hammer home the point about budgets, but, a small budget generally means low wages for employees and the DMV is no exception.

The US national average pay for a DMV clerk is about $43,000. That’s less than the middle-class average in the country at about $16 an hour after taxes.

Many DMV employees earn even less than the average salary and with that, comes job dissatisfaction. It’s hard to stay energized, upbeat, and efficient when your take-home pay is so low.

6. No Incentive To Improve

No Incentive To Improve

There’s no doubt that the DMV can be a stressful work environment. Between dealing with annoyed customers and working on outdated systems, the DMV is less than glamorous.

Would you care to rush through your work just to get to the next cranky customer? You probably wouldn’t be skipping into work knowing you’re spending the day under old fluorescent lights and taking breaks in a windowless back room.

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Unfortunately for DMV customers, the DMV provides a necessary service. Employees can work at whatever pace they want since their performance has little to no outcome on their job status.

7. All DMVs Are The Same

Since motor vehicle regulations are government regulated, the approach to how things like licensing are processed has been relatively streamlined.

This is true of the paperwork and even the infrastructure for the facilities that do the processing.

Across many different cities, DMVs are generally the same size, with the same number of service desks, the same number of employees, and the same DMV regulations.

This insistence on uniformity fails ]to take into account the needs of each city. In New York City there are about 3.6 million licensed drivers.

It’s not likely that the DMV set-up should be the same in, say, Mount Vernon, Iowa with a total population of about 4,000.

8. Arriving At The Same Time

Not many people have the luxury of visiting the DMV during off-peak hours. Who do you know that can casually slip out for a license renewal at 2 pm?

Many people visit the DMV in the morning before work, during their lunch hours, or just after the workday ends. These peak times can mean an onslaught of customers at one time.

Many who visit the DMV outside of their 9-5 jobs can expect an impressive line of people upon their arrival and sometimes even being turned away if they don’t make it before closing hours.

9. Complaining Customers

Just talking about the DMV puts people in a bad mood. Everything about needing to go there is a bummer from the stale air to the depressing decor.

Also, life is expensive. It costs money to renew your license, register your vehicle, pay outstanding fines, taxes, and more.

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But complaining about this to DMV officials once you’ve reached the front of the line only adds to the wait time for other people. Pay your fees and move on.

10. Policies Are Top Priority

The number one most important thing for a DMV employee to adhere to is government policies. It’s unlikely that they’ll ever be fired for poor service, but breaking policy is a fireable offense.

Employees will often take great pains to ensure accuracy which means carefully reviewing sometimes hard-to-read documents. It can also mean that paperwork needs to be reviewed by a superior.

This comes at the expense of everything else in the DMV ecosystem including how long you’ve been waiting.

11. There Is Only One DMV

Most other businesses have competitors that force companies to improve their systems to maintain market advantage. At the DMV, their customers aren’t going anywhere.

The DMV has no competitors. They are the only government bureau responsible for issuing licenses and vehicle registration.

Despite the complaints often heard in the walls of a DMV office, there is very little incentive to upgrade.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why DMV workers are so rude, why your FedEx package is not moving, and why Wish is so cheap.


The DMV is a frustrating place for customers and employees alike. Low funding, outdated systems, and unhappy employees make for a less than desirable experience.

Perhaps the best thing you can do when visiting a DMV is to have your documents ready, wear comfortable shoes, and bring your patience because waiting seems inevitable.


  • Yasmin Fisher

    Yasmin Fisher is a fashion-loving shopaholic who has spent the last 10 years in customer service. She loves finding great deals, and thrifting is one of her favorite weekend activities.

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