Out of Control Policy Blog

A well-earned reputation

I know it’s not big news that a DMV experience is not a pleasant one. Even within the sorry world of government services, the DMV has a bad reputation. So when my wife and I headed to the DMV to register our car and get California driver’s licenses, we weren’t expecting much. And that’s just what we got.

We naively thought that we could make an appointment over the phone. But roughly a dozen calls to the DMV’s phone number resulted in only busy signals. After deciding to go in person, we—of course—discovered that we couldn’t take care of our registration and licensing needs during the same appointment. We would have to make a separate appointment to take the driver’s test. Predictably, we were not given a wide range of options. There was one opening … at 11:40 … in three weeks. Take it or leave it.

While the DMV regards customers as annoyances to be endured between coffee breaks, California’s privatized traffic-school system, treats customers like—well—like customers:

[I]n place of the dull, state-run schools familiar to recalcitrant drivers in the East, Californians seeking to scrub points off their driving records can choose from an abundant buffet of Traffic Violator Schools, as they're officially called.

There are online and weekend traffic schools; traffic schools for Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean speakers; religious-themed traffic schools; traffic schools run by colleges and out of department stores. One San Diego outfit calls itself, somewhat ominously, the Make My Day Traffic School.

Humor-themed schools abound, too, possibly because there are so many unemployed comedians, or maybe because, well, it couldn't hurt. Among the names you'll find in the Yellow Pages are the Fresh Comedy Traffic School, the Funny and Painless Traffic School, Laff With Us Traffic School, Lettuce Amuse U Traffic School and the I'll Never Speed Again Comedy Traffic School.

And you can practically hear the bureaucratic drone in the DMV spokesman’s response:

"As long as they cover the basic curriculum, and the required number of hours, the theme isn't really important to us."

Think privatization could put some spring in the DMV’s step?

Ted Balaker is Producer


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