There’s no MOT test here, but you do need proof of insurance and, for older cars, of a recent smog check. But nowadays, these are supplied electronically to DMV by insurers and smog check stations, which means you can renew by mail, phone, or online with no need to queue at the DMV office.
Although wouldn’t you know it: now that I’ve left the UK, the DVLA’s made renewing car tax online equally easy.
A few more wide-eyed-foreigner observations:
- Insurers and state DMVs use the VIN to identify the car, not the registration number as the UK does. This makes sense: the VIN is supposedly unique, while each state has its own numbering scheme for license plates.
- However, California license plates carry more than just the number: the front plate also carries stickers showing the month and year the registration expires. On renewal, you get a sticker for the next year; I assume the month sticker is issued on first registration.
- The US is far stricter on carrying documentation than the UK: no option here to produce your drivers licence at a police station, you have to have it with you. And more: you also need to be able to show proof of registration and of insurance. Look in the glovebox of most American cars, and you’ll find these documents.
California, which introduced a primary seat belt law — which allows a driver to be ticketed simply for being unbelted — in 1993, does better, with a 90% usage rate. I haven’t been able to find statistics for the entire UK, but this seems fairly consistent with Northern Ireland’s measured 89% overall seat belt usage rate.