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California DMV offices are closed indefinitely. Here’s what you need to know

The coronavirus pandemic has bred a collective longing for everyday things people once took for granted, such as visiting parks or gyms and attending large gatherings with friends and family.

The jury is still out whether anyone misses waiting in line at the DMV.

But for motorists who realize they’ll soon need to renew their driver’s license before it expires, or teens eager to receive their license for the first time, they may find additional hurdles as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the state agency to modify day-to-day operations.

Arguably the largest change came last week, when the Department of Motor Vehicles began the temporary closure of the 170 field offices it operates statewide to curb the spread of the coronavirus and allow for a deep cleaning of the public-facing facilities.

In response, the agency launched their Virtual Field Office at virtual.dmv.ca.gov on Thursday, a webpage that expanded the number of online services available to the portion of the 27.3 million drivers in the state who many need services from the department during the coronavirus pandemic.

A day prior, the DMV issued a 120-day extension for drivers over the age of 70 whose licenses expire between March 1 to May 31. Californians with safe driving records whose last visit was 15 years ago, and who would otherwise be required to renew their license in person, should be able to do so online or by mail by April 8.

Here’s what else you need to know about how the temporary DMV closures might affect you:

What services can I access online, or elsewhere, while DMV offices are closed?

Drivers in need of a title transfer or vehicle registration renewal can now do so through the DMV’s Virtual Field Office, which debuted Thursday. The DMV hopes to add additional functions to the website over time, the agency said.

Several other services are available through the department’s online services page, including license renewals, address changes or requesting a driving record.

Hundreds of DMV kiosks scattered throughout the state provide similar services as those available online, though a DMV map of kiosk locations only shows one in Sonoma County.

People in need of vehicle inspections, behind-the-wheel tests or a REAL ID will need to wait until their local office reopens to complete any of those tasks. The deadline for the REAL ID was extended by the Department of Homeland Security to Oct. 1, 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Will I get in trouble if I get pulled over with a recently expired driver’s license?

The DMV asked law enforcement in mid-March to be flexible and use discretion when considering whether to cite drivers for expired licenses or vehicle registrations.

What should I do if I lose my driver’s license?

People who lose their driver’s license while the DMV’s offices are closed can now apply for a duplicate online. And don’t feel so bad - about 1 million drivers ask for a new copy of their license in California every year, the agency said.

You’ll need to have made no changes to your address within the last two weeks and create an online account to apply for the duplicate license. The agency’s online services page, under the Driver License and Identification Card tab, is where customers can make the request. They cost $30.

When will my local DMV office open?

The agency provided no time frame for when it will reopen offices throughout the state, though when that does happen, visitors will first need to make appointments to get help in person.

The DMV will then prioritize certain “critical transactions” that can’t happen via the web, such as reinstating suspended or revoked driver licenses, adding endorsements to commercial driver licenses and issuing identification cards.

People interested in making an appointment should check the DMV website for availability, the agency said, though a notice on the agency’s website on Thursday noted that none were available due to high customer demand.

I still have questions

Still need help? The live chat feature on the DMV website and the department’s customer service center, reached at 800-777-0133 during normal business hours, are still available. The DMV warned people calling its customer service center may experience longer than usual wait times because of high call volumes.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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