New State, New Licenses

My South Dakota driver’s license was set to expire on my birthday in 2020. It was around that time that effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus caused the closure of the offices where people go to renew their driver’s licenses. The expiration dates of licenses were extended so that people could continue to drive. So, for a time, I was driving with a license that said on its face it was expired but it wasn’t in fact expired. I wondered how that would be interpreted by authorities in other states if I were to be stopped for a violation when driving out of state, but that never happened, so I do not know. Eventually the license bureaus in South Dakota reopened in a limited fashion. I was able to obtain an appointment and got my license renewed. I breathed a sigh of relief. But, in my case, the relief was temporary.

Now I am in Washington State. The law in Washington requires motorists to obtain Washington license plates for their vehicles within 90 days of establishing residency. The law also requires that persons seeking to license their vehicles in the state obtain a Washington driver’s license before the apply for vehicle licenses. Washington is one of the states that issues a super license that can be used in place of a passport when traveling to and from Canada and Mexico. Although we have passports and intend to keep current passports, it seems like the super license might be handy living this close to the border. There is a hill near our son’s home where, on a clear day, you can see the buildings of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The closest zoo to our grandchildren’s home is in Canada. And we have had some wonderful times exploring British Columbia and hope to return there once the virus allows the reopening of borders.

At any rate, in Washington the process for a person from another state to obtain a driver’s license is to fill out an online application and be issued a driver’s license number. Then you print the form from the completed application, gather the necessary documents for proof of residency and citizenship, make an appointment and appear in person at the driver’s license station. I filled out the application and prepared to make my appointment, but as had been the case in South Dakota months ago, there were no appointments available at the driver’s license station. The station does not schedule appointments more than 30 days in the future and every slot was taken. This means that I need to check for appointments every business day until a slot opens up and take the first time that becomes available. Assuming that I don’t run into a similar problem with the vehicle licenses, I might get all of this accomplished within 90 days.

The process got me to thinking about the places I have lived and the process of obtaining driver’s licenses and vehicle licenses. We went through four years of graduate school with Montana “Big Sky Country” plates on our car. It is legal for students to maintain residency in their home states when attending university in other states. Montana plates variously have read “Treasure State,” “Big Sky Country,” “Big Sky,” and also been issued without a slogan. Currently Montana’s Motor Vehicle Division has made more than 230 different license plate designs available, each from a sponsoring college, business, advocacy group or non profit organization. It’s confusing. But in those days there was just one design and our plates said “Big Sky Country.”

When we established our residency in North Dakota, we had to trade in our “Big Sky Country” plates for North Dakota “Peace Garden State” plates. The International Peace Garden, on the border between North Dakota and Manitoba has, since the 1930’s been a 3 1/2 acre area that is officially accessible to citizens of both countries. It features formal gardens and a place for people from both countries to meet without having to cross the International border.

I thought it was a bit of a downgrade when we had to trade in our “Peace Garden State” plates for Idaho “Famous Potatoes” plates. I never really understood the “Famous Potatoes” slogan. I know that Idaho is home to some large potato farms and was home of the developer of instant potatoes as well as the potatoes that were the source of McDonalds french fries for many years. But North Dakota grows some pretty good potatoes and, frankly, I found the North Dakota russets to be preferable to the giant potatoes offered as Idaho bakers. Maybe Idaho isn’t the state of good potatoes, only famous ones.

While we lived in Idaho special plates became available, and we left the state with beautiful plates featuring mountain bluebirds that benefitted the state’s non-game wildlife fund.

We traded those for South Dakota “Famous Faces, Famous Places” licenses. At the time, the plates were printed with colors that didn’t have much contrast and the long slogan plus the lack of contrast meant that it was nearly impossible to read the slogan from another car. We went through several design changes in the 25 years we lived in South Dakota and for many of them I had vanity plates on my car that read REV TED.

Now our “Famous Faces, Famous Places” plates will be traded in for “Evergreen State” plates. Or perhaps we’ll get state parks or national parks special plates. Washington doesn’t have the large number of different plate designs that are featured in Montana, but there are several choices. The standard plates feature a picture of Mount Rainier, which is a pretty good design as we love the Cascades. And, since the days of my vanity plates, I’ve become less inclined to pay extra for a special look to the license plates on my vehicles.

Of course all of that is dependent upon my being able to get an appointment to get a driver’s license. It’s just one of the many tasks of changing one’s residency. Fortunately, registering to vote is a bit easier.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!