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Idaho DMV History

The Idaho Department of Transportation reports that in the year 1913 the state issued 2,083 vehicle plates.  Motorcycles did not get an actual plate but painted their registry number, state, and year of manufacture on the rear mud guard.  It was not until 1917 that they issued plates to motorcycles. Idaho may have been the place where creative plate designs were born.  When a plate was lost back then, the state issued a blank replacement plate and the driver was told to hand paint the plate number.  Some of these plates were very creative and drivers took pride in them.  In 1928, Idaho became the first state to issue a license plate featuring a graphic.  It was an Idaho potato, of course.

Idaho was a state for 50 years in 1940 so a commemorative plate was issued. The state then changed several times over the years;

  • 1941 to 1946 – SCENIC IDAHO
  • 1947 – VACATION WONDERLAND – graphic of a ski jumper
  • 1948 – WORLD FAMOUS POTATOES – decal of a potato complete with butter
  • 1953 and 1956 – WORLD FAMOUS POTATO
  • 1957 – FAMOUS POTATOES
  • 1958 – 1968 – plates altered between a green background with white letters to a white background with green letters.
  • 1968 – 1990 – white background with green lettering
  • 1991 – award-winning panoramic scene of pine trees and mountains under a blazing red Idaho sky.


The state of Idaho learned early that there was money to be made in the distribution and sale of vehicles.  In 1913 Idaho Legislation passed the first law that required automobile manufacturers and dealers of new vehicles to be licensed with the state.  It wasn’t until 1927 that used vehicle dealers had to be licensed. That was also the year that the VIN (vehicle identification number) number was required.  The “Uniform Motor Vehicle Anti-theft Act” requires vehicles being sold to be titled and have a VIN number.  At first, the VIN numbers were put on the motor and the frame/body of the car and both numbers were put on the title.  Then, sometimes the number on the motor was put on the title without the number of the frame/body and vice-versa.  The state soon learned that it wasn’t that good of an idea since people can replace the motor.  Now the VIN number only appears on the body of each vehicle.  The Dealer Advisory Board was developed in 1965 to assist and advise in the administration of licensing laws. Some of the laws that the Dealer Advisory Board requires are;

  • Dealers must have $20,000 bond that covers their salespeople and dealership.
  • Dealer license fee increased to $125.
  • 1986 – Truth in Mileage Act (actually federally mandated) strengthened odometer requirements and increased criminal penalties for violations.


You can put your mind at ease when you do business with manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and factory representatives in the state of Idaho.  Eight Motor Vehicle Investigators are employed by the Dealer Licensing Unit for the purpose of solving problems and enforcing the provisions of the licensing laws of the state.

The Motor Vehicle Bureau of Idaho has been in charge of implementing the title requirements of the state since 1927.  Initially the Motor Vehicle Bureau fell under the Department of Law Enforcement, but currently the Bureau is overseen by the Idaho Transportation Department.  In 1928, 107,000 titles were issued.  This number grew to 668,571 in 2005.  Over the years, enhancements and additions had to be made to manage the number of vehicles on the road.  Idaho was ahead of the game when, in 1996, it was the third state to offer an ELT (electronic lien and title).  This program allowed financial institutions to go “paperless”.  New laws and programs continue to be enacted to make life easier for the citizens of Idaho.

The governor of Idaho C. Ben Ross (1935) took it upon himself to ask the 23rd Idaho Legislature to enact a law requiring all people operating a motor vehicle in Idaho to be licensed.  This was a reaction to the national fatality rate of motorists topping 3,600 in 1934.  There were many opposed to the law for various reasons from the program costing too much to the waste of time and manpower to administer the licenses.  Finally on July 1, 1935 the Driver’s License Law became effective.  The Idaho driver’s license was valid for 3 years and cost fifty cents.  By 1967, photos appeared and the cost was $6.00.  The Motor Vehicle Bureau, which is now called the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), became a part of the Idaho Transportation Department in 1982.  The cost of the license has increased from the original $6 over the years.  In 2001, a four year non-commercial license was $24.50.  Now motorists between the ages of 21 and 62 can have the option of purchasing an 8 year license for $45.00. Currently, nationwide Law Enforcement Agencies can provide immediate information about a person’s driving record since it is stored electronically. 

A digital driver’s license system was installed in every driver’s license office in the state of Idaho by February 2002.   This system helps prevent counterfeit driver’s licenses from being produced.  Once an Idaho driver’s license is issued the 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.”

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