3 Simple Pieces of Technology To Make The DMV Less Awful

Isaac Rose
Apr 5 · 3 min read

Fresh off the heels of a 1 hour 30 minute visit to the lovely SF Daly City DMV, I unsurprisingly witnessed a lot of problems. Besides not being able to find parking (ironic, right?) or needing to wait until 10:30am for my 10am appointment, I saw an interesting intersectionality of people converging on overwhelmed DMV employees, and a hullabaloo of frustration as both sides struggled to either ask or answer questions.

Putting on my product management hat, I saw that the most frustrated individuals were those who either:

1. Didn’t speak English well or at all

2. Didn’t know what station to go to

3. Were standing in line to complete a multitude of forms on a desktop computer running InternetExplorer

As any product manager in my shoes would do, I spent the majority of my 1 hour 30 minutes in the DMV trying to think about how I would make it better, and to that end I’d like to proffer my solutions:

  1. Google Translate

Persona: Non-English speakers

Problem: Some of the most frustrated visitors to the DMV appeared to be non-English speaking individuals, which lead to even more aggravated employees when it came to communicating. Often times the problem would lead to blank faces or raised voices due to the language mismatch.

Solution: To solve the classic communication problem, the DMV should partner with Google to provide Google Translate devices at all employee stations. This would allow customers to be able to speak in whatever language they were most comfortable with, as well as allowing the employee to communicate what the customer is required to do.

Thing to consider: How do you teach people to interact and communicate through the machine rather than at each other?

2. QR Codes

Persona: Technology confused individuals

Problem: The DMV is a minefield of forms. If you don’t have a form, you pretty much can’t do anything. To that end, there was a huge line of people wrapping around the building to use a desktop computer to fill out forms that could be readily accessible on their smartphones.

Solution: Why were they waiting in line instead of quickly filling out the forms on their phones? Well, according to the employee I spoke with, it’s just too hard to communicate to customers quickly what URL they need to go to and for what particular form. To solve that problem, I suggested a piece of paper, each with a QR code that corresponds to the form needed to fill out and that each customer could quickly scan to fill out. To that suggestion, a smile came across the employees face.

Thing to consider: Will this natively work with everyone’s camera phones?

3. Voice Assistants (i.e. Alexa or Google Home)

Persona: The unprepared consumer

Problem: There were tons of people rambling around the DMV, standing in one line only to find out they needed to be in another, due to the fact that there were only 2 DMV employees “directing traffic.” The few roaming DMV employees for questions were overwhelmed by the rapid fire questions often coming from all 360-degrees.

Solution: Many of the questions I overheard were around where to go with what form. Alexa and other voice assistants are great at taking semi-structured questions and outputting structured answers. To that end, if there were Echos stationed throughout the DMV that confused consumers could ask questions to before escalating to the two poor employees roaming about, that would make everyones lives better.

Thing to consider: How do many “Alexas” work together in a small, indoor environment?


Have other suggestions on how to make the DMV less awful? I would love to hear your solutions below.

Isaac Rose

Written by

trying to be an interesting person doing interesting things