IDAHO'S MOTOR VEHICLE HISTORY
The state of Idaho issued its first plates in
1913, with the price determined by the value of the vehicle. There
were only 2,083 plates issued that year (each vehicle receiving a
single plate). Motorcycles were not issued an actual license plate.
Instead, the owners simply painted their registry number, state, and
year of manufacture on the rear mud guard. In 1917, motorcyclists
received their first actual motorcycle plates.
Back then, if a license plate was lost, the
motorist could purchase a blank replacement plate that was flat where
the numbers would typically be embossed. The owner could then hand
paint the license plate number in the flat area. Perhaps that is
where Idaho's creative license plate designs first began.
Idaho has a long history of creative plate
designs, in fact, it pioneered the concept. In 1928, Idaho became the
first state in the nation to feature a graphic on a license plate by
proudly displaying an impressive Idaho potato that filled the entire
The 1940 plate commemorated 50 YEARS OF
STATEHOOD, and from 1941 to 1946 the words SCENIC IDAHO appeared on
Idaho plates. 1947 plates proclaimed the state a VACATION WONDERLAND!
The 1948 plate highlighted our most famous product as WORLD FAMOUS
POTATOES. In 1953 and 1956, the slogan was modified to read WORLD
FAMOUS POTATO, but was shortened to FAMOUS POTATOES in 1957.
Displaying Idaho's passion for the outdoors,
and skiing in particular, the 1947 plate featured a ski jumper. But
in 1948 and 1949, the famous potato returned, this time in the form
of a decal, complete with a pat of butter.
From 1958 through 1968 the plates alternated
between a green background with white letters to a white background
with green letters. From 1968 through 1990, the standard plate format
had a white background with green lettering.
The award-winning 1991 issue (a modification of
the optional Centennial plate) really showed the capabilities of
modern vinyl graphic technique, featuring a panoramic scene of pine
trees and mountains under a blazing red Idaho sky.
The distribution and sale of vehicles in Idaho
affects the state's general economy and has a significant impact on
the public. To protect these interests, the 1913 Idaho Legislature
passed the first law requiring dealers (of new motor vehicles) and
automobile manufacturers to be licensed.
In 1913, many different makes of vehicles could
be purchased in the city of Boise, including Fords, Saxons,
Overlands, Oldsmobiles, Stanley Steamers, Buicks, Knights, Metz's,
and even Marion Bobcats. Some are familiar vehicle names and others
are long forgotten, but the licensing of dealers has continued
through the years.
Used vehicle dealers were first required to be
licensed in 1927. The law requiring this addition in dealer licensing
was called the "Uniform Motor Vehicle Anti-theft Act" and required
each vehicle being sold to be titled and have a vehicle
identification number (VIN). On many of the older vehicles the motor
had one number and the frame/body had a different number. Sometimes
both numbers were recorded on the title, other times only the motor
number would be shown. Since a motor can be changed, Idaho now
records only the VIN shown on the body of each vehicle.
From the beginning, dealer licensing has been a
learning experience for both the dealers and the state. Over time,
motor vehicle dealer laws have evolved, changed, stopped, and
started. In 1965, the Dealer Advisory Board was established to assist
and advise in the administration of these laws.
One of the laws that evolved required dealers
to have surety bonds. To begin with, the vehicle dealers were
required to have a $10,000.00 bond and the salespeople were required
to have a $2,000.00 bond. Today, dealers have a $20,000.00 bond that
covers their dealership and their salespeople. Dealer license fees
have also increased from the original $35.00 to the current fee of
The 1986 federally-mandated Truth in Mileage
Act has provided the consumer with added protection by strengthening
odometer requirements and increasing the criminal penalties for
The Dealer Licensing Unit currently has eight
Motor Vehicle Investigators throughout the state to help solve
problems and enforce the provisions of the laws regulating the
licensing of manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and factory
representatives doing business in the state of Idaho.
Although the state of Idaho had been licensing
vehicles since 1913, vehicle titles weren't required until the 1927
Idaho Legislature passed the Uniform Motor Vehicle Anti-theft Act with the intention of
halting the licensing of stolen vehicles. The Motor Vehicle Bureau
(which was already established with Registrations and Dealer Services
under the Department of Law Enforcement) was given the responsibility
of implementing the title requirements of the new law.
At that time, the Department of Law Enforcement
operated in conjunction with the Secretary of State's Office, since
Fred Lukens was both the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of
Law Enforcement. The Motor Vehicle Bureau remained with Law
Enforcement until 1982 when the bureau was reorganized under the
It's interesting to note that automobile theft
has always been a problem, but in his 1930 biannual report, Mr.
Lukens stated that the new title requirements met with universal
approval on the part of the public and that the number of thefts had
undoubtedly decreased in Idaho because of this new law's existence.
Because stolen vehicles and ownership discrepancies still exist
today, the nine Motor Vehicle Investigators assist the public
with these problems.
The Uniform Motor Vehicle Anti-theft Act became
effective on January 1, 1928. During that first year the Motor
Vehicle Bureau issued over 107,000 titles for cars, trucks,
motorcycles, and trailers. Each title was hand-typed on an 8" x 10"
form for a fee of 50¢. The title was later reduced to a 3" x 4"
size that was used until 1988 when it was enlarged to accommodate the
odometer requirements of the Federal Anti-Theft Act of 1986.
The color of the titles has also varied through
the years. The original large titles were white with a gold
background and gold border. The smaller titles were originally
printed in various shades of green, and then gold. When the title was
enlarged in 1988, the color was changed to the blue that is in use
The number of Idaho titles has fluctuated from
year to year, but has steadily increased from the original 107,000
issued in 1928 to the 668,571 titles issued in 2005.
Over the years this growth has been accompanied by new
problems that have required new laws and procedures to manage
vehicles that have been wrecked, salvaged, or abandoned.
Enhancements to the titling program have also been made to provide
additional services to Idaho title customers. In 1996, Idaho became the third state in
the nation to offer an electronic lien and title (ELT) program for financial institutions
that preferred “paperless” titles. In 1997, a release of liability program was enacted to
protect a vehicle seller from liability for injury or damage to persons or property,
infractions, and storage, repair, towing or service fees associated with a vehicle that
were incurred after delivery to the buyer. In 2000, certain vessels became titled.
In 2001, transitional ownership documents were created to provide dealers and financial
institutions a means to perfect liens in cases where a lien was unable to be recorded
within the required timeframe because the title certificate was lost or being held by a
previous lienholder. As needs present themselves, the department will continue to see that
new laws and programs are enacted to benefit the citizens of Idaho.
The 1913 Idaho Legislature defined
speeding by stating "A rate of speed in excess of 30 mph for over one-fourth of a mile
shall be presumed evidence of driving at a rate of speed which is deemed not careful or prudent."
Prior to the Driver's License Law, the fifteen officers in the State Traffic
Patrol warned approximately two thousand motorists each month and arrested the more flagrant
violators. After the Driver's License Law was enacted, the Department of Law Enforcement
developed a system for reporting traffic violations.
As the number of cars on the road increased, the number of fatalities
also began to grow at an alarming rate. When the national fatality rate topped 3,600 in 1934,
Governor C. Ben Ross took action to protect the safety of Idaho motorists. In 1935, Governor
Ross asked the 23rd Idaho Legislature to enact a law requiring all persons operating a motor
vehicle in Idaho to be licensed. Ada County Senator Harry L. Yost introduced the bill. There
were many opposed to the bill, and chief among them was the Idaho Statesman. The Idaho
Statesman claimed that creating a licensing program for drivers would create a costly
bureaucracy, take perhaps four or five people to administer, create additional work for the
sheriffs, cost too much (proposed $1.00 for three years), and would not help save lives. Despite one
of the longest Senate floor debates of the session, the Driver's License Law became effective
on July 1, 1935. The licenses issued in 1935, valid for three years, cost fifty cents.
In 1947 the "Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act" referred to as the
Financial Responsibility Law was enacted and the Financial Responsibility Section was created.
The law required driving privileges to be suspended for non-compliance of the Act, and in 1953
also required proof of financial responsibility under certain convictions.
Photos first appeared on 1965 licenses. The cost for a driver’s license that year was $6.00.
In 1967, several new programs were added to the Driver Improvement Section in an effort to place
the responsibility for all driving privilege withdrawals under one section.
In 1969, Driver Services was formed under the Motor Vehicle Bureau. Driver Services was a
consolidation of three sections: Safety Responsibility, Driver Improvement, and Driver License.
In 1982, the Motor Vehicle Bureau (now the Division of Motor Vehicles) became part of the
Idaho Transportation Department. Driver records are now stored electronically on computers,
which allows Driver Services to quickly issue drivers' licenses, and to provide immediate
information on its database of over one million driver records to Law Enforcement Agencies
License fees have increased in modest increments since 1935. In 2001 the fee for a four-year
Class D (non-commercial) license was set at $24.50. Motorists now have the option of purchasing
an eight-year license for $45.00 if they are between the ages of 21 and 62.
Major technological innovations in 1984 made it possible for each county to issue licenses
instantly. Computerization and Polaroid camera equipment eliminated the typical six-week or
longer wait to receive a permanent license. Until 1984, applicants who purchased driver’s
licenses at county sheriffs’ offices throughout the state were given 120-day temporary permits
while their photos were developed and the licenses produced at the Idaho Transportation Department
headquarters in Boise. Automation also allowed Idaho to provide immediate information to law
enforcement agencies nationwide.
In 2001 Idaho joined many other states in implementing a Graduated Driver’s
License program designed to increase highway safety by helping young drivers develop
greater driving skills before being granted full driving privileges.
By 2002, Idaho had approximately 901,000 licensed drivers. Obtaining an Idaho driver’s
license means that a driver is certified as having demonstrated a basic knowledge of traffic
laws and rules of the road and is physically and mentally capable of controlling a motor vehicle.
Over the years, Idaho’s drivers’ licenses have also come to be accepted as proof of identity.
By February 2002, the digital driver’s license system was installed in every driver’s license
office across the state. The digital system makes it possible to obtain a duplicate driver’s
license without providing supplementary photo documentation. It also allows the incorporation of
enhanced security features to help eliminate the production of counterfeit driver’s licenses.
During the early 1920s, the few trucks being
operated in Idaho were licensed, along with other vehicles, by the
Department of Law Enforcement, Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
In 1923, Idaho law defined a motor truck as
"any motor vehicle designed ... for the transportation of
commodities, merchandise ..." Because of that definition, nearly
2,000 owners of roadsters with small boxes on the rear paid the
additional $7.50 "truck" fee. Others evaded the fee by merely
declaring they owned a roadster.
In 1927, the Auto Transportation Companies Law
required stages to pay a quarterly $3 tax per seat and trucks to pay
a $25 to $75 tax, depending on their carrying capacity.
Approximately one year later, a makeshift rig
devised by Boisean Carl Holst around 1928 or 1929 became what was
probably one of the first cab-over trucks in existence. Mr. Holst
used the unit (powered by a Ford Model A motor) to haul siphon pipe,
a load about 20 feet long, weighing 4,100 pounds.
The 1956 Uniform Registration Law modified
registration fees for vehicles over 16,000 lbs. and changed to a
"power-unit-only" mileage tax. Idaho became a member of the Uniform
Registration Proration and Reciprocity Agreement (Uniform Agreement)
which simplified licensing and allowed proration of registration fees
to interstate vehicles.
Idaho joined the International Registration
Plan (IRP) in 1976. The IRP allows recognition of fleets of vehicles
proportionally registered in other jurisdictions, and follows the
basic principles of the Uniform Agreement. Prior to the Uniform
Agreement, many companies detoured through other states and bypassed
Idaho. The Uniform Agreement and the IRP induced the trucking
industry to operate in and through Idaho in greater and greater
A recent change took Idaho apportioned (IRP)
vehicles from a calendar-year registration to a monthly "staggered"
registration. This change evenly distributed the workload, resulting
in better service to the trucking industry.
In 1994, Commercial Vehicles issued 60,169
vehicle identifications. The following year, Commercial Vehicles was
reorganized and received a new name: "Motor Carrier Services." True
to their commitment to provide better service to the trucking
industry, Motor Carrier Services developed a "One Stop Shop" in 1995,
where in one easy step, carriers can process all of their
In 2005 Motor Carrier Services and Ports of Entry
and Permits were consolidated into one Section, the Commercial Vehicle
Services Section, to further improve services offered to our customers.