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MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCIES ARE DRIVEN TO MODERNIZE

SHARE MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCIES ARE DRIVEN TO MODERNIZE

Register your car by telephone. Renew your driver's license at the shopping mall. Pay speeding tickets with your credit card.

Departments of motor vehicles around the country are slowly going the all-electronic route. Motorists once driven to distraction by red tape, long lines and sometimes cranky clerks can now take care of paperwork without going anywhere near the dreaded hive of bureaucrats."It's a much kinder, gentler registry these days," said Aubrey Haznar, spokesman for the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts.

This month Massachusetts became the fourth state to offer car registrations renewal by phone, said Larry Greenberg of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The others are Wisconsin, Illinois and California, which was first in 1989 and now plans as well to install kiosks around the state where residents will renew their registrations with machines that take credit cards.

"People don't have to wait, they don't have to commute," said Greg Niva, a supervisor of vehicle registration for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. "When you can just pick up the phone and do it, people are attracted to the convenience."

Limited to vehicle owners with credit cards, the telephone registration systems allow renewals as late as the date the registration expires. In the exchange, the telephone clerk consults a computer to be sure the caller has auto insurance, then takes a credit card number to bill the registration fee, and finally records the renewal, again on computer.

The new registration document is sent the old-fashioned way, however: by mail.

The alternative in Massachusetts, still in use, requires residents to mail or bring to the registry proof their car is insured in order to renew their registration.

Calls to the registry also get routed by a telephone system that lets people pay traffic violations such as speeding tickets, also by credit card.

Drivers also can renew their licenses at one of seven shopping malls at registry branches called "License Express." Two more branches will open this summer.

Jerold Gnazzo, the state registrar of motor vehicles, said his department now renews 200 and 300 auto registrations daily by phone, still a fraction of the 34,000 transactions the agency conducts each day.

"Our goal is for you to never have to go to a registry office again," said Gnazzo, who acknowledged the agency may have difficulty getting some to break the habit.

"They may not want to stop coming (in person) to the registry because it gives them something to complain about," he said, laughing." But they'll just have to find a new state agency to hate."