California DMV offices could reopen this month, but with coronavirus changes

The California Department of Motor Vehicles may be able to reopen field offices this month, but new social distancing rules will prohibit the kind of crowding customarily seen in the offices.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The head of the California Department of Motor Vehicles said Tuesday he hopes to begin reopening field offices this month as the agency improves safeguards in response to coronavirus, but he said some activities, including on-the-road driving tests, will take longer to resume.

DMV Director Steve Gordon said he is planning to reopen the agency’s 170 field offices to in-person visits by appointment in phases, with 25 likely to open this month and all offices opening within about 30 days afterward.

“We have to go through all of the learning that we are going to do of how to [operate] in a COVID-19 world,” Gordon said during a conference call with reporters.

He said the schedule for reopening depends on approval from state health officials. Even then, customers will be asked to wear face masks and observe social-distancing rules inside the offices.

“We want them to be protected,” Gordon said. “We want ourselves to be protected.”


In the meantime, Gordon said, Californians can complete about 97% of DMV transactions online and at remote kiosks and other automated locations. Services available online include vehicle registrations renewals, vehicle title transfers, replacing lost driver’s licenses and temporary license extensions.

“We have done a lot of work over the past several months, building on top of some of the work we were already doing on Real ID, to really expand what we are doing online,” Gordon said.

Taking the written driving test, getting a photo for a license and taking an on-the-road driving test to qualify for a license must be done in person.

Road tests will be delayed for some weeks because of the close proximity required for tester and driver, Gordon said.

The DMV shut its field offices on March 27 amid concerns by employees and the public about the risk of transmitting the coronavirus in crowded offices where customers typically face long waits.

Since then, employees have been operating a DMV Virtual Office, where customers can transact business with help from workers.

Some pressure was relieved when the federal government approved a one-year delay in the deadline for people to apply for a Real ID card.

The DMV has also extended driver’s license expiration dates for residents younger than 70 until May 31.

In addition, the agency granted 120-day extensions for licenses of drivers 70 and older, a group that is particularly vulnerable to the virus and under caution to stay at home.

The DMV also said commercial driver licenses expiring between March and June are valid through June 30.


Gordon said Tuesday that work is underway to make the field offices safe for a return by the public.

“We are working with our labor partners making sure we have the right [personal protective equipment] in place, making sure everyone is clear about what’s expected of them, making sure we have the right amount of control for people who get into the facilities,” he said.