Overview of the Registry of Motor Vehicles

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Registry of Motor Vehicles

Table of Contents


The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) was established in June 2009 by Chapter 25 of the Acts of 2009. According to MassDOT’s website, it oversees roads, public transit, aeronautics, and transportation licensing and registration across the state. It is made up of four divisions: the Highway Division, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), the Aeronautics Division, and the Rail and Transit Division.

According to its website, MassDOT’s mission is to “deliver excellent customer service and safety to people traveling in the Commonwealth” and “provide our nation’s safest and most reliable transportation system to strengthen our economy and quality of life.” To achieve this goal, RMV, as a division of MassDOT, issues and maintains records related to motor vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses and enforces motor vehicle laws to promote highway safety. It does so by ensuring that every driver meets minimum competency standards and withdrawing driving privileges from people who prove to be a threat to other drivers. Additionally, RMV is in charge of managing driver’s licenses, disability parking placards, motor vehicle registrations, and vehicle inspections. RMV is also responsible for collecting fees for registrations, vehicle titles, drivers’ licenses, special plates, civil motor vehicle infractions, inspection stickers, and other miscellaneous items and remitting them to the Office of the State Treasurer. Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides the statutory guidelines governing RMV, and Title 540 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) provides regulatory responsibilities for RMV.

The day-to-day operations of RMV are overseen by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. During our audit period, RMV had approximately 733 employees working from its central office on Newport Avenue in Quincy and its 30 branch offices and 19 satellite offices throughout the Commonwealth. RMV’s budget was approximately $86.5 million for fiscal year 2015 and $85.9 million for fiscal year 2016.

Disability Parking Placards

The qualification standards for disability parking placards for people with disabilities set forth in 540 CMR 17 state that a person must need a placard to minimize the distance to be traveled between the person’s parked vehicle and final destination. Placard holders may park for an unlimited time in parking spaces with posted time limits and may park in metered spaces for an unlimited time without having to pay meter fees. In addition to free, unlimited parking, displaying a valid placard allows the holder to park in blue zones and certain designated parking stalls and spaces that are restricted to those displaying such placards. Placards are associated with the applicant, who need not be a driver; state law allows others, such as parents or family members, who are transporting a disabled person to use a placard.

Picture of a disabled parking placard used by RMV.

RMV offers two types of placard: temporary and permanent. The two types are identical in appearance. For a person to be eligible for a temporary placard, a medical professional must certify that the person’s disability is predicted to last for a minimum of 2 months and a maximum of 24 months. Permanent placards are issued for five years; RMV automatically issues and mails a renewal placard 30 days before the expiration date of a current placard.

People may apply for placards in person at any of RMV’s service centers throughout the state or by mail through RMV’s Medical Affairs Department in Boston. Regarding eligibility, the mass.gov webpage for disability plates and placards states,

To obtain disability plates, a placard or a disability veteran plate, you must be a Massachusetts resident. A Massachusetts registered and licensed physician, chiropractor, registered nurse, physician's assistant, osteopath, optometrist (for [legal] blindness only) or podiatrist must certify that you meet one of the following conditions:

  • Cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest.
  • Cannot walk without the assistance of another person, prosthetic aid or other assistive device.
  • Are restricted by lung disease to such a degree that your forced (respiratory) expiratory volume (FEV) in 1 second, when measured by spirometry, is less than 1 liter.
  • Use portable oxygen.
  • Have a Class III cardiac condition according to the standards set by the American Heart Association.
  • Have a Class IV cardiac condition according to the standards set by the American Heart Association. A customer in this condition must surrender their license.
  • Have Class III or Class IV functional arthritis according to the standards set by the American College of Rheumatology.
  • Have Stage III or Stage IV anatomic arthritis according to the standards set by the American College of Rheumatology.
  • Have been declared legally blind (please attach copy of certification). A customer in this classification must surrender their license.
  • Have lost one or more limbs or permanently lost the use of one or more limbs.

During our audit, there were 662,226 active placards in Massachusetts. The chart below shows the breakdown of temporary and permanent placards.


Chart showing the number of temporary disabled person parking placards and the number of permanent ones.

Driver's License Process

Section 8 of Chapter 90 of the General Laws sets the qualification standards for acquiring a license to operate a motor vehicle. According to RMV’s License Policy Training Manual,

Every customer over the age of 18 must present the following core documents when applying for a permit, license, or ID . . .

  • Verifiable [Social Security number, or SSN] or Denial Notice with visa, I-94, and current non-U.S. Passport
  • Document Proving Massachusetts Residency
  • Document Proving Signature
  • Document Proving Date of Birth

If an applicant is under the age of 18, consent from a parent, legal guardian, or social worker must also be provided.

Massachusetts Licenses by Vehicle Class

Vehicle Class


Number of Licensees


Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds. (Holders of a Class A license may, with any appropriate endorsements, operate all vehicles within Class B, C, and D.)



Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR. (Holders of a Class B license may, with appropriate endorsements, operate all vehicles within Class C and D.)



Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers including the driver, or is required to be placarded for hazardous materials under 49 CFR 172.500 or any other federal regulation. (Holders of a Class C license may operate all vehicles within Class D.)



Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the definition of Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class M. (Typically passenger vehicles such as cars, SUVs, or family vans).



Any motor vehicle defined as a motorcycle in M.G.L. c. 90, § 1.





*   The descriptions in this table are quoted from the 2018 Massachusetts Driver’s Manual.

Disability Parking Placards and Driver’s License Verification

RMV has implemented policies and processes to help prevent fraudulent activity that include verifying SSNs against those of active individuals in the Social Security Administration database. This database allows RMV to verify a person’s SSN, name, and date of birth as of the date the person applies for a placard and driver’s license. RMV also compares its placard and driver’s license records to the Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) Vital Statistics File and withholds any renewals for placard holders that RMV identifies as deceased. State law charges DPH with the registration of all deaths that occur in the state, which it does by processing death certificates that are originally prepared by funeral home operators, coroners, and medical examiners. RMV uses the Vital Statistics File from DPH, which is updated monthly, to compare first names, last names, middle names or initials, and dates of birth to information in its registration system that maintains placard holder information. When a match is found, the placard record is updated to show that the person is deceased, which prevents the placard from being automatically renewed.

Automated Licensing and Registration System

RMV’s mission-critical application, the Automated Licensing and Registration System (ALARS), was developed in the mid-1980s as RMV’s mainframe and database for all registry transactions. ALARS was used during our audit period to maintain all records for Massachusetts-licensed drivers, including licenses, registrations, disability parking placards, criminal and civil citations, inspection stickers, and miscellaneous other fees. ALARS maintains all the daily financial records of all revenue transactions at RMV and provides financial information for the Commonwealth’s Massachusetts Management Accounting and Reporting System.

Date published: September 6, 2018

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