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California and the West

DMV Signals End to Confusion on Form

Bureaucracy: Registration renewal application tells motorists that Social Security number is required, then says it isn't. New warning may be added.

January 13, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Sometimes when government tries to help, it just ends up getting in the way, or so it seems at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The DMV, long the butt of talk show jokes, is getting ready to scuttle an alert on millions of vehicle registration renewal forms that says a Social Security number is required--but also says it isn't.

"Collection of your Social Security number is mandatory," warns a paragraph in bold type on the reverse side of the registration renewal application.

It goes on to note that failure to furnish the number will result in the denial of a driver's license or state identification card.

But there's a problem. The very same paragraph says: "At this time your Social Security number is not requested on vehicle registration or title documents."

Say what?

"The form is not clear and that's a fact," said DMV spokesman Bill Gengler.

Here's another fact: The law no longer requires Social Security numbers on vehicle registration forms. And there's no space for the number anyhow.

Just ignore the admonition, Gengler advised.

DMV officials are reviewing the form with an eye toward eliminating the Social Security alert.

In its place, Gengler said, may be a new warning: Prove you have auto insurance or you can't register your vehicle. The law has required proof of insurance since 1997.

The DMV apparently has received no complaints about the confusing Social Security information on the rear side of the registration form, Gengler said. There are more than 27 million registered vehicles in California.

"We haven't had any complaints," he said. "The reason, I think, is people will fill out the front side and most of them won't look at the back side of the form."

"It is just something that remained on the form that no one really paid any attention to, thinking that the . . . disclaimer would be enough to take care of the problem," he said.

As for the genesis of the confusion, it appears that in the interest of efficiency, the DMV simply transferred the same alert found on applications for driver's licenses and state identification cards, which do require Social Security numbers, onto the vehicle registration forms.

The registration form was rewritten a bit but was not changed enough to clearly reflect enactment of a 1995 law that repealed the Social Security number requirement for registration purposes.

The DMV has been collecting Social Security numbers since the early 1990s. Stored in databases, the numbers are used to help government authorities track down scofflaws, such as welfare cheats, deadbeat parents and drivers who don't show up in court or who neglect traffic fines.

The department found that Social Security numbers supplied by driver's license and state identification card applicants were sufficient and that there was no need to collect them on vehicle registrations, Gengler said.

Furthermore, Gengler said, the DMV never did collect Social Security numbers from vehicle registrants, even though for a time it was authorized to do so.

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