Pressures were high Thursday at a Transportation Committee hearing in Raleigh as state legislators criticized Commissioner Wayne Goodwin’s ‘broken’ operations at the DMV that have caused major frustrations for North Carolina customers. 

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles is the largest customer-facing agency in the state government, but legislators condemned ongoing dysfunction and questioned why the DMV “does not serve its customers well.” The NCDMV is often a source of disruption for law-abiding citizens who make the inconvenient and time-intensive trek to a DMV office. 

Complaints date back years and include a lack of available appointments at DMV offices, long wait times, and simply being told to come back on a different day. A frequent pain point for parents of teenagers looking to become licensed drivers is making three different trips to the DMV within just 18 months. Under state law, individuals new to North Carolina must obtain an ID within 60 days of moving, but it’s rare to find an available slot two months out in the DMV’s online booking system; the state’s major cities don’t even offer booking times. 

State legislators voiced a strong desire to hold the government agency accountable by doing all they can to remedy the inconveniences North Carolinians face. 

“A broken DMV is a broken promise to our constituents,” Co-Chair Michael Lazzara said at the meeting. “Real change must be systematic, which comes from the top.”

Commissioner Goodwin sat before the committee to answer questions with two staffers sitting next to him and over a dozen additional staff members directly behind him. All staffers stood with Goodwin to be sworn in, making their overflowing presence irrefutable. With pen and paper in hand, they were prepared to aid Goodwin in responding to questions. 

Co-Chair Vickie Sawyer told the Carolina Journal that she has never seen an agency bring that amount of people to a committee hearing before. She said it could be due to the siloed information within the agency, making it impossible for one person to answer questions accurately.

DMV staffers stand with Goodwin to be sworn in.

Having served as Commissioner of the NCDMV since 2022, Goodwin reasoned that there have been many ‘objective’ improvements made since he took the lead two years ago. He highlighted system modernization updates and said that over 250 job vacancies were filled in the last two years, though they still need 80 more positions filled to be fully staffed. 

“While we’ve made a host of changes and improvements over the last two years, we recognize that this agency is not perfect; none of us are, and we have a lot to learn and a lot to do,” Goodwin stated. “While we have gained three million residents, we’ve only had a net gain of three new driver’s license offices since 2003.”

Some of those solutions mentioned include kiosks and booking appointments ahead of time, but that has resulted in a 25% no-show rate. QR codes were installed so customers could sign in and then return to the building when they’re up next. Additionally, 45 offices now open at 7 am, and legislators suggested staying open later or opening on Saturdays. 

To break down silos of information, the DMV entered into an agreement with the State of Arizona to implement a System Modernization effort that will replace multiple aging mainframe systems with a single solution containing all customer information.

As the state’s population has increased drastically, so has funding, specifically for modernizing systems. Over time, the state has allocated approximately $170 million to the DMV for modernization, of which $53.8 million has been spent. The division hasn’t kept up with rapid technological advancements, causing efficiency roadblocks.

However, lack of organization may also be contributing to concern. The federal government’s New I.D. was implemented incorrectly in North Carolina, and Goodwin could not explain why IDs were printed in black and white when state law requires they be printed in color. 

Throughout the three-hour meeting, Goodwin brought many staffers to the front of the room to help him answer specific questions. Two additional chairs and microphones were brought to the front of the room so staffers could assist Goodwin in answering questions. 

“I did not hear anything new from Commissioner Goodwin that I haven’t heard in the past.  We hear a lot of promises, but we have not seen actions,” Sen. Sawyer reflected on the meeting. “I remain disappointed in modernization.  I feel what we heard today is more empty promises, which is what I have received since becoming a Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee.”

Following the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, the Senate chairs released a joint statement saying today’s fact-finding mission revealed that “DMV leadership is not acting in the best interest of the people of North Carolina, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to improve DMV services.”

They commended the dedicated DMV employees for doing everything they can to serve their communities, pressing agency leadership to do the same.  

The next step for lawmakers is to analyze the information presented today and follow up on holding the DMV accountable to fulfilling the promises for improved services.

“From the questions and the testimony that we’ve heard today, it’s clear that the DMV has significant room for improvement… Commissioner Goodwin, unfortunately, this responsibility belongs to you,” Lazzara said.  

Lazzara has proposed privatizing the DMV to make it run more efficiently. North Carolina’s license plate agencies are privately operated within a hierarchy that funnels back up through the NCDMV. A study is currently underway to analyze the potential benefits of privatization, and the General Assembly will examine the results in May.