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The DMV encountered many new challenges in 2003, and we made a number of changes based on experience from previous years. We increased the efficiency of the permitting process, so shifts were easier on the hotties who volunteer with DMV, and owners of mutant vehicles enjoyed better service. More changes are needed, however, especially in the area of enforcement when vehicles lacking permits are found navigating the playa.

In 2003, we initiated mandatory pre-registration for mutant vehicles. This change simplified paperwork on the playa, and allowed us to set up an email list to distribute important information. We set specific hours for registration of vehicles with flame effects, which lessened the load for our inspection team and shortened the wait for those vehicles' owners.

These improvements smoothed our process flows, so we moved vehicles more efficiently to the point of licensing decisions. Moving the DMV location to Center Camp allowed us to make use of the infrastructure there (so we could have lights at night, for example), and participants could more easily find us. Also, our location across from Art Car Camp afforded mechanical support for mutant vehicles, provided support for DMV hotties, and offered clear examples of visually stimulating vehicles. Remote licensing of large vehicles prevented them from having to complete the tricky navigation through the Center Camp area.

A volunteer team made up mostly of returning veterans increased the sense of ownership and community among the DMV hotties. Despite the difficulties of this job, hotties enjoy their work. A committed team of experienced volunteers allowed us to continue to clarify job descriptions and further streamline the process. We added a greeter position to help vehicle owners begin the permitting process and a right-hand position who was 2nd in command on the playa, allowing the manager of DMV to take a break now and then.

Our training process continued to evolve, since we had begun training of DMV volunteers only in 2002. We built upon what we had learned, including feedback from hotties about their training experiences and their volunteer shift experiences.

Our access to office space in a protected structure was a blessing, giving us a place to keep our licenses and paperwork. Having our own radio channel simplified communication between members of our team. We enjoyed good communication with and support from the Ranger organization.

DMV had to overcome a number of challenges, as well, in 2003. Our shade and physical structure were put up much later than anticipated, causing us to open late. Once we opened, a lack of technical training kept us from taking advantage of the large amount of work devoted to setting up database access on the playa. Our computer information didn't easily dovetail with the paper process.


Internal inconsistency in evaluating vehicles allowed those that had been denied licensing to return later and get licensed by a different team. This experience reinforces our need for increased emphasis on training. Despite our work to determine which art cars should be licensed, consequences for driving unlicensed vehicles on the playa were limited to the possibility of a ticket from law enforcement officers. In 2002, we had threatened to take offending vehicles to an impound lot, but the implementation of this threat fell short. We did not emphasize the risk of impound in 2003. This is all being reviewed and addressed for 2004.

An ongoing challenge is the difficulty encountered when we decline a license application. Hotties have to deal with disappointment (and sometimes anger and ill will) from vehicle owners. This frustration is understandable after someone has towed, driven, or otherwise transported a vehicle to the playa only to be prevented from displaying it as intended. We plan to expand our pre-registration process to clarify these expectations.

Relations with other Burning Man departments do need some work. While we were, in 2003, - a part of the Ranger organization, we have not always participated fully in the Ranger administrative processes. Next year we will move out from under Rangers and join the Playa Safety Council. Also, a gray area in the division of responsibilities between the DMV and the Artery has caused some artists to be shuffled back and forth between departments to get appropriate driving permits. Clarification is needed about the process for permitting vehicles involved in a one-time performance and which department should issue those permits.

About this photo...

Our largest problem was a lack of respect shown by drivers toward our community at large. Drivers of many licensed vehicles broke the few simple rules that our community has demanded for safety in our city. Many more unlicensed vehicles were involved in the same behavior. A couple of licensed art cars were driven so poorly that complaints from pedestrians hit new highs. The attitudes of the drivers and campmates responsible for these cars were at best cagey and at times blatantly disrespectful. The amount of energy put into reasoning with them pushed the resources of the DMV hotties and the Rangers to the point of absurdity. These art car crews were given multiple chances to prove they were to be trusted only to be found driving unsafely again. This behavior was consistent with our experience the previous year. In an effort to gain control of our city's safety and prevent bodily injury to participants, we are sorry to report that some prominent art cars will not be allowed back in Black Rock City. La Contessa and the Shark Car have been banned from returning for 2004.

Another related need became apparent this year: Licenses are hard to see and need to be redesigned. This change will help to resolve the problems with enforcement of driving restrictions on the playa. BRC citizens should see a great improvement here.

Our struggle with enforcement problems affected our team's morale. More importantly, it made our city an unsafe environment. Theoretically, every citizens should take individual responsibility for driving only if licensed, and then only in a safe manner. Unfortunately, this ideal is not the reality. Law enforcement officials have said that if we do not manage driving in the city next year, they will. Consequently, we have a need, for the first time in Burning Man history, to enforce DMV rules beyond peer pressure. This move saddens us all, but we are up for the task. We will be working as support to the Rangers and the Safety Committee to accomplish this goal.

As part of our planning for 2004, we are changing our terminology from art car to mutant vehicle. This is a significant change. The art car community exists beyond Burning Man and we aren't determining whether or not something is art, but rather if something fits the criteria for vehicles driven on the playa during the Burning Man event. This change should clear up some misconceptions about our mission.

The DMV is also completely revamping the licensing process for Burning Man 2004. We plan to complete the majority of the vehicle licensing before the event. Pre-registration will begin in March, giving us ample time to review applications and to communicate with individual vehicle owners. We are creating new technology and processes to allow us to make most licensing decisions before the event, saving people who will be denied licensing from the effort of bringing vehicles to the playa. As part of this effort, we have begun a communications campaign to the mutant vehicle community and to the Burning Man community at large.

Lastly, we have been working to revise criteria for mutant vehicle licensing, introducing several categories that should clarify requirements. We are developing a database that ties in to the rest of the Burning Man organization's information systems.


Lessons learned:

  • We know better than ever that volunteers need technical training in order to work effectively with the (mostly) paperless system on the playa.
  • We recognize the need to communicate early and often with the mutant vehicle community.
  • We must work more effectively with all other Burning Man departments and with our community to address the issue of reckless driving on the playa.

Further, the Burning Man community at large needs continuous reminders that Black Rock City is ultimately a pedestrian city. Tire pressure is a privilege, not a right! Driving on the playa without a license is not only a DMV issue, but a community issue. Those who do so blatantly disregard community guidelines. The number of drivers making this choice results in a sea of vehicles that increase dust and make many pedestrians uncomfortable. This problem affects the morale of the DMV team and is just a real bummer for the entire community.

Submitted by,
Jewelz Cody, aka Grits End of page

Click here to read the 2002 DMV report.