The state Department of Motor Vehicles turned 50 on Wednesday.
The occasion was celebrated with an anniversary event at the Empire State Plaza, with a display of 25 vintage vehicles from when the agency was formed in 1961 to a present-day Smart Car. There were also DMV history exhibits and displays of agency memorabilia.
“We wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary and talk about how the DMV has grown,” said Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala. “Originally it was the twentieth agency for the state and just did car registrations and licensing. Now we do so much more like boats and snowmobiles.”
Many of the speakers at the event, including State Police Superintendent Joesph D’Amico and Fiala herself, could not believe how young the agency was.
“To be honest when I was asked to speak at this celebration I was a little bit confused. I couldn’t understand how the DMV could only be 50 years old,” said D’Amico. “After all we’ve had automobiles around for more than 100 years, and I figured we’d been licensing drivers and registering vehicles for nearly that long.”
He said after speaking to his traffic unit who “eat and sleep cars,” they gave him a lesson on DMV history.
The state began registering vehicles in April 1901 and was the first to enact driver licensing in 1903, but wasn’t mandated until 1924. It also didn’t require annual registrations until 1910.
In 1911, license plates began being issued under a private contractor and in 1921 all functions of vehicle registration were transferred to the State Tax Commission.
Two year later in 1923, the state began manufacturing its own license plates at the state correctional facility in Auburn.
In 1961, all functions were taken over by the newly created DMV.
At that time there were 5 million registered vehicles and nearly 7 million licensed drivers. Today, there are 10 million registered vehicles and 11 million licensed drivers in the state. The agency also registers recreational vehicles, creates identification cards and issues almost 3.3 million vehicle titles annually.
Fiala said the agency’s main objective today is traffic safety.
“Public safety is so important to us,” she said. “We’ve worked to promote a lot of different legislation, like with cellphones. You know, 50 years ago we didn’t have to worry about stuff like that.”
The commissioner also promoted the agency’s progression into the digital age, boasting about the information now provided on the Department’s website and the many transactions that can now be performed online. She hoped the additional methods of service would stop the jokes in New York state that are often told about the DMV.
D’Amico did tell one, joking how the line was so long when we went to get his drivers license several decades ago, he believed he was 17 by the time he earned the rite of passage.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo could not be at the event but issued a citation, reading:
“Thanks to the dedication and hard work of thousands of past and present employees who share a vision and work together to provide the best possible services to the public, the DMV successfully carries out its mission. Today, the Department is a role model for traffic safety and motor vehicle administration, and it is fitting to recognize its outstanding efforts to serve the people and communities of New York state throughout the past half century.”
Fiala said: “We at the DMV will continue to strive to carry out all aspects of our mission, particularly promoting traffic safety and providing the highest quality costumer service.”