received a wonderful birthday present the other day—my driver’s license renewal for another five years. It’s probably the last one I’ll get—or need. Next time it runs out I think I’ll settle for a chauffeur. By then I may be too old to remember the correct answers for the test.

This past Thursday was the expiration date on my license, the day I started my 91st year. Wednesday I completed my first year as an nonagenarian although the way we keep track of things it was the last day I was 89 years old. All brought to you by the same people who thought the 21st century started in the year 2000 and the third Millennium on January 1, 2000. That, of course, would have shorted the earlier ones by one year.

Anyway, I took advantage of the confusion to celebrate all week. I remember when I turned 20 I wondered if I would make it to the 21st century. Thanks to a mother who was particular about what her kids ate and the medical industry despite its problems, I’ve beaten that concern by almost two decades. 

The Chino Valley Historical Society felt I qualified for special longevity status and threw a great party last Saturday at the Chino Senior Center, which drew a full house despite competition from the annual Chino  Relay for Life and several other smaller events. I spent all the next day reading birthday cards, which was lots of fun. Kerry Cisneroz, the Chino Memories Facebooker, emceed the affair and kept embarrassing questions away. Thanks everybody for coming, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you all.

I mentioned above my birthday present from the DMV. Actually, I worked hard for it, attending a session in Chino Hills designed for seniors seeking to renew their licenses, then going online to practice on trial tests available online. I’m glad I did, because those tests can contain tricky questions like which way to turn your wheels when parked on an uphill street without curbs and how many feet to signal when making a turn, or when you can pass on the right on a two-lane roadway.

I followed advice and got an appointment—at the Rancho Cucamonga office. I’ve done Pomona, which can get crowded, and Norco, which is farther away, so decided to try Rancho. There’s not enough space in the computer test section, which is a little awkward, but otherwise things went OK. The employees must be highly aware of the criticism their department has been under. They were pleasant and helpful, even by the end of the day. I got a chuckle of understanding when I complained about trying to download my pre-registration form I had been told to fill out. After two hours I gave up.

It didn’t matter, and I got out of their office in less than an hour and a half.

The DMV has been going through some trying times—trying to keep up with modernization. Faced with cyber systems designed in the last century, added tasks such as registering voters and issuing REAL ID driver’s licenses, and Sacramento budget pinching, the DMV hasn’t been up to the task of its increased business. All state elected officials should be required to go through relicensing regularly without special consideration.

A tip to applicants for the REAL ID, which the state had to redo: Don’t let all that security blather worry you. A valid U.S. passport serves the same purpose if you have one, and is almost easier to get. See your local post office or the Chino Hills city hall. 

One benefit I have found being an Auto Club member—Vehicle reregistration, handicapped plate and most other needs can be taken care of outside the DMV office. 

A search through the Champion archives reveals that the system for registering vehicles and drivers was a slowly evolving process in the early 1900s.

Cities and counties were allowed to license bicycles, tricycles, automobile carriages, carts, and similar wheeled vehicles as early as 1900. Local police chiefs handled driver permits at first.  

Vehicle owners paid a $2 fee and were issued a circular tag to be conspicuously displayed on the vehicle and had to display the license number on the rear of the vehicle in 3-inch-high black letters on a white background. Vehicle registration prerequisites included satisfactory lamps, good brakes, and either a bell or a horn.

The Secretary of State handled vehicle registrations from 1905 until 1913, when the Legislature gave the task to the State Treasurer. The state Engineering Department (predecessor of the Department of Public Works and forerunner to today's Department of Transportation) became the custodian of vehicle records.

The California Vehicle Act of 1914 created the laws pertaining to vehicles and driving.

The Department of Motor Vehicles was created in 1915. Vehicle registrations that year had climbed to 191,000. In 1921, its powers and duties were transferred to the Division of Motor Vehicles, part of the newly created Department of Finance. The California Highway Patrol was created in 1923. In 1931, the DMV became a stand-alone state department.

A 1931 Champion tells us that Chief of Police Fred Derbyshire would give tests each Friday to those desiring driver’s license renewals.

In 1959, the California Vehicle Code was re-codified and re-enacted by legislation. This is how the California Vehicle Code remains today.

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