The DMV—long on wait times, short on social distance

Going to the DMV is always a hassle, and a long time out of your day, spent in a place most of us would rather not be.

But now, there’s another reason not to go: the risk of being inside, in close proximity to hundreds of people, for an extended period of time. Better to avoid that as much as you can.

If you do need to go to the DMV in the coming weeks, here’s a guide to typical wait times (bearing in mind that they may fluctuate based on restrictions and altered hours due to COVID-19.)

California

If any state is exceptionally notorious for long wait times, California’s DMV is a good contender. One of the most glaring examples of inefficiency and lack of oversight was the DMV employee who pulled a George Costanza and slept three hours a day at work, for almost four years. That probably didn’t help the lines move any faster at his location.

The good news is, the Golden State has been cracking down on those types of shenanigans, and the efforts to improve service and efficiency seem to be paying off: as of December 2019, people who didn’t have an appointment were waiting in line an average of 38 minutes. That still sounds like a long time, but that’s down from a nearly 73-minute average wait time the year before.

Still, results may vary. Wait times for various DMV offices still span a wide range—so you could be in and out quickly at one location, whereas the pace may be positively glacial at another.

Also, one crucial—but often glossed-over—fact is that the ‘wait time’ doesn’t actually start until you get your ticket (the one with letters and numbers that tells you when you’re up, and which window to go to.) The wait before that is often 25-50 minutes. Yikes.

Here are some of the most extreme wait times for California DMV offices:

Oakland – 2.5 hours

Poway – 2.3 hours

Santa Monica – 2.2 hours

Florida
Florida’s DMV (which is technically the FLHSMV, but who has time for that?) 

Florida’s average wait times to register a car, renew a license, or make a name change range from 35 to 85 minutes.

DMV wait times are seldom something to celebrate.

Clearwater is way ahead of the curve, with wait times consistently below 10 minutes.

But here’s a plot twist: Florida recently introduced self-service kiosks. Which allow people to register a car without having to wait in line for an actual DMV/tax office employee! Except… these kiosks are only available in three locations: Drew Park, North Tampa, and Brandon.

Oregon

Oregon’s DMV wait times seem to be on the shorter side, compared to other states. Smaller cities like Pendleton, Newport, and La Grande were extremely short, averaging around 6 minutes.

Salem area DMVs averaged in the low teens, and the greater Portland area averaged a still very reasonable 32 minutes.

Like most states, Oregon is anticipating—and warning residents—that lines and wait times will continue to get longer as the October 1 REAL ID deadline draws closer. 

Texas

In most parts of Texas, if you need to make a trip to the DPS, the news is not encouraging. The target wait times for things like a new license or a renewal are 45 and 30 minutes, respectively. But the reality is… much bleaker. Wait times at many DPS officers are over two hours.

Texas-sized wait times, at the DPS.

A state review of the Texas DPS concluded that it “had not been administered well.” In response, the administration in question (the head of the DPS) said the agency is understaffed, and needs about $230 million more in operating budget to make the needed improvements.

To handle other transactions—like transferring the title of a vehicle—you have to go to the tax assessor’s office for your county. That can actually be worse than the DPS, because there’s only one per county, and they typically have more limited hours than the DPS. And they can be pretty slow, too—45 minutes to two hours was the range among several Texas counties.

Washington

Washington DOL wait times vary significantly based on location. Interestingly, some of the more densely populated areas—like Seattle—tend to have shorter wait times, while less populous cities like Spokane and Bellevue average longer.

Recent Seattle DOL wait times typically hovered around 35 minutes, while Bellevue was closer to an hour. Spokane took the clear last place of the three, with wait times averaging 80 minutes.

And now you might be thinking, what if I make an appointment? I thought that too, recently. But there’s a current phenomenon involving the REAL ID—the federally recognized ID card that everyone needs to get by October 1, 2020 (unless they have a passport they want to use for things like domestic air travel.) This rush to beat the deadline has pushed the availability of DMV appointments out for months. I tried to book one recently here in California and there were no appointments available at all, at several offices. The ones that did have appointments were booked out 2+ months. So appointments aren’t the wait time panacea they used to be.

The REAL ID is causing some REAL delays at the DMV.

In any case, please remember—at the DMV and anywhere else you need to go—to maintain social distancing, wash your hands as often as possible, and follow all other guidelines. Harvard Health Publishing has a comprehensive resource on COVID-19 precautions.

If you do need to buy or sell a car during the pandemic, TRED can provide an experience with far less contact than a dealership, while also saving you the hassle—and the potential exposure  risks—of having to go to the DMV.

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