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MOTOR VEHICLE REGISTRAR
[Authorized: NDCC Chapter 39-02]

Originally registration for motor vehicles was the duty of the Secretary of State.  Legislation in 1911 required an owner of a motor vehicle who drove on a North Dakota public highway to apply to the Secretary of State and pay a fee for registration. Each vehicle was assigned a specific number. Legislation also required that fees collected by the Secretary of State be distributed to county governments for a special road maintenance fund. Legislation also defined the terms, the rate of speed a vehicle could drive on highways, in villages, and cities. It gave the authority of enforcing the rules to the County Superintendent of Highways or to the Board of County Commissioners (S.L. 1911, Ch. 6).  Additionally, use on streets, alleys, and public areas by automobiles, “traction” engines, and self-propelled vehicles that operated in incorporated villages fell under the regulation of the local Boards of Trustees (S.L. 1911, Ch. 5).

In 1917 the Committee on Highways introduced legislation regarding motor vehicle license fees for dealerships. It also amended sections of the Compiled Laws of 1913 relating to motor vehicle license fees, registration tags, display of registration tags, and the disposition of license money by the Secretary of State. Distinctive numbers were provided for every brand of motor vehicle owned or controlled by the vehicle manufacturer or vehicle dealer. Tags were displayed on the front and back of the vehicle for a fee of no less than six dollars with an additional set of tags costing fifty cents. Legislation also addressed regulations concerning the glare from headlamps stating that to be lawful, vehicles operating on state highways must do so with headlamps having no more than “four candle power” and equipped with a reflector that projected no more than 75 feet. Headlamps under all conditions had to stand above 42 inches from a level surface. A spotlight couldn’t be used except when rays were projected directly on the ground and a beam was cast no more than 30 feet in front of the vehicle (S.L. 1917, Ch. 155). Engine horse power determined the cost of a license with the exception of three-dollar fees for motor bicycles or motor cycles. Legislation also allowed for the creation of a State Highway Commission and gave the Commission the authority to make all contracts and to cooperate with the US government concerning road development. Legislation also approved of the State Highway Fund (S.L. 1917, Ch. 131).

In 1919 the State Highway Commission assumed responsibility for registration of motor vehicles and the Secretary of the Commission appointed a motor vehicle registration clerk. Vehicle registration money was paid to the State Treasury for the State Highway Fund and license tags.  Vehicle dealers were responsible for providing paperwork for licensing after each vehicle sale (S.L. l919, Ch. 182). Legislation also required that tax assessors within the state list as general property all motor vehicles owned, leased, or controlled by persons, companies, or corporations. Forms became more standardized and were made available through the State Highway Commission (S.L. 1919, Ch. 183).

In 1925 (S.L. 1925, Ch. 167) every motor vehicle had to be registered annually. Each set of tags was valid until the end of December.  An Independent Office of Registrar of Motor Vehicles was created in 1927 (S.L. 1927, Ch. 179) and the Registrar of Motor Vehicles was appointed by the State Highway Commission for a two-year term. All fees collected by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles were deposited in the State Highway Fund.  Legislation also specified that two license plates be issued one for the front of the vehicle and the other for the back.  Drivers were required to carry the registration card in the vehicle at all times and the plates were to be of a “size that could be read plainly at a distance of 100 feet”. Motorcycles had one plate.

The 1931 the Legislative Assembly established a Department of Motor Vehicle Registration to replace the Office of Registrar of Motor Vehicles. Additionally, registration fees were reduced if registrations were issued after the first of July. However, the renewal date was set for the end of the calendar year for all vehicles. Fees for registration were now based on weight of vehicle (S.L. 1931, Ch. 186).  Other amendments related to prescribing the powers and duties of the Department of Motor Vehicle Registration, issuing certificates of title for registered motor vehicles, facilitating the recovery of stolen or unlawfully taken motor vehicles, and making available licensing for dealers selling used motor vehicles, trailers, or semi-trailers (S.L. 1931, Ch. 187).  Legislation also introduced the term “Auto Transportation Company” defining it as every corporation or person, their lessee, receivers, trustees, or court appointed trustees, owning, controlling, operating, or managing any motor propelled vehicle used in the business of transportation (S.L. 1931, Ch. 188).  Another reorganization took place in 1933 abolishing the Department of Motor Vehicle Registration and transferring responsibility for motor vehicle registration to the State Highway Commissioner.  The State Highway Commissioner appointed a Registrar of Motor Vehicles for a two-year term.

In 1947 the Legislature established the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund as a state fund set up for the protection of North Dakota residents against financial hardship or death caused by uninsured motorists. It was financed by an assessment on all motor vehicle license plates as they were sold [NDCC 26.1-23-01]. North Dakota registration laws required motor vehicle owners to pay to the Registrar a fee of $1.00 for each motor vehicle registered and the money to be deposited in the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund (S.L. 1947, Ch.274).

 In 1951 the State Legislature created a separate Motor Vehicle Department (S.L. 1951, Ch. 236) and authorized the Governor to appoint a Registrar of Motor Vehicles for a two-year term.  The Motor Vehicle Department had responsibility for maintaining titles for all motorized vehicles and providing application forms, registration cards, and license plates.  In addition, the Department adopted and enforced administrative rules regarding motor vehicles and dealer titles, registrations, insurance and equipment fees. Branch offices were established wherever necessary to carry out the laws of registration. The Registrar also named a deputy registrar or other necessary administrative personnel. In 1956 the North Dakota Motor Vehicle Department, on its own initiative, placed the words “Peace Garden State” on license plates, the name proved so popular that it was formally adopted by the 1957 legislature [NDCC 39-04-12].

Legislation officially added the slogan “Peace Garden State” to the content of the plates in 1963 (S.L. 1963, Ch. 269). Also in 1963 legislation required that four-inch lettering spelling out “North Dakota” be painted on each state owned vehicle and directly below in two-inch letters was the name of the department, institution, or industry. Excluded from this act was the State Highway Patrol or cars owned and operated by the State Highway Patrol or cars principally used by institutional, juvenile, parole, and placement services, or trucks owned by any state department, institution, or industry. Legislation required that state officials and state department, institution, or industry employees use the supplied motor vehicle (S.L. 1963, Ch. 266). Legislation also (S.L. 1969, Ch. 336) changed the annual date of renewal for vehicle registration from first of January to end of March.

In 1989 the Department of Transportation was established bringing the office Motor Vehicle Department into the Department of Transportation through the consolidation of the former State Highway Department and Motor Vehicle Department. Changes involved placing the office under the direction of the Department of Transportation Director. Branch offices were also included in this change.   (S.L. 1989, Ch. 72).

See Department of Transportation

CHRONOLOGY

1911       The Secretary of State had responsibility for the registration of motor vehicles and paid monies to the county treasury for a special road maintenance fund (S.L. 1911, Ch. 6). Regulation concerned the use of streets, alleys, and public grounds by automobiles, “traction” engines, and other self-propelled vehicles as the responsibility of the Board of Trustees of an incorporated village (S.L. 1911, Ch. 5).

1917       Several sections of the Compiled Code (1913) were amended as they related to registration tags, displaying registration tags, or disposition of license fees by the Secretary of State, claims for moneys expended, and the expenditure of the collected taxes. Legislation concerned motor vehicle fees paid by vehicle dealers (S.L. 1917, Ch. 156). Penalty for larceny of automobiles and motorcycles was addressed and any person taking a vehicle without owner consent could be convicted of vehicle larceny and charged with a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for not less than one year and up to seven years (S.L. 1917, Ch. 156). Additionally, the use of headlamps and spotlights on motor vehicles was addressed (S.L. 1917, Ch. 155).  Legislation also allowed for the creation of a State Highway Commission and established the State Highway Fund (S.L. 1917, Ch. 131).

1919       The State Highway Commission assumed responsibility for registration of motor vehicles and the Secretary of the Commission appointed a motor vehicle registration clerk and vehicle registration money was paid to the State Treasury for the State Highway Fund. License tags and application forms became more standardized and vehicle dealers were responsible for providing all paperwork for licensing after selling a vehicle (S.L. l919, Ch. 182). Legislation required tax assessors practicing within the state to use forms as provided by the State Highway Commission and list as general property all motor vehicles owned, leased, or controlled by persons, companies, or corporations (S.L. 1919, Ch. 183).

1925       Motor vehicles were registered annually and the tags were renewed annually according to the calendar year.  Legislation addressed creating a State Highway Fund (S.L. 1925, (Ch. 167).

1927       An Independent Office of Registrar of Motor Vehicles was created giving authority to the State Highway Commissioner to appoint a Registrar of Motor Vehicles who would serve a two-year term. The powers and duties of the Registrar were included in the legislation.  A comprehensive list defined words and phrases describing the functions of the office. Legislation consisted of eight sections and forty-three subsections (S.L. 1927, Ch. 179).  Legislation also required certificates of title for registered motor vehicles. It facilitated in the recovery of stolen or unlawfully taken motor vehicles and provided for dealers licensing used motor vehicles, trailers, or semi-trailers (S.L. 1927, Ch. 198).

1931       A Department of Motor Vehicle Registration was created to replace the Office of Registrar of Motor Vehicles (S.L. 1931, Ch. 186). 

1933       The Department of Motor Vehicle Registration was abolished as a separate department and transferred to the State Highway Commission. The appointment of a Registrar of Motor Vehicles was made by the State Highway Commissioner and supplies for the office of Registrar were provided by the Commissioner and Highway Department. Legislation also abolished the Auto-Theft and State Highway Fund and established the Motor Registration Fund (S.L. 1933, Ch. 160).

1947       A fund known as the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund was set up in the State Treasury as a protection for North Dakota residents against financial hardship who were involved in accidents caused by uninsured motorists. The act authorized a special registration fee on motor vehicles for the establishment of an Unsatisfied Judgment Fund. Payment for damages resulting from bodily injury or death of persons arising from the ownership, maintenance, or operation of a motor vehicle by the judgment debtor were distributed from the Fund. Initially ten different points were covered in the act and Fund provisions were taken from a special registration fee of one-dollar on motor vehicles (S.L. 1947, Ch. 274).

1951       Legislation changed the Revised Code of 1943 by creating a Motor Vehicle Department and authorized the Governor to appoint a Registrar of Motor Vehicles for a two-year term (S.L. 1951, Ch. 236). Special motor vehicle plates for amateur radio station license holders bearing the call letters of the holder could be obtained from the Superintendent of the State Highway Patrol (S.L. 1951, Ch. 235) and legislation also related to the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund authorizing that monies from the Fund be invested (S.L. 1951, Ch. 257).     

1953       Legislation empowered the Attorney General to appoint special counsel to defend the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund and to set a time frame for when a judgment was final (S.L. 1953, Ch. 252).

1963       New and amended sections of the Century Code [NDCC 39-04-13] related to laws concerning licensing and registering of motor vehicles such as duplicated, lost, mutilated, or illegible licenses.  Additionally, used vehicle owners were required to show proof of ownership by providing a certificate, letter, or other documentation.  Legislation also addressed the registering and licensing of mobile homes (S.L. 1963, Ch. 265).  Other amendments concerned rescinding a registration of an “unsafe or unfit” motor vehicle, the unlawful use of vehicle permits, and matters relating to a reciprocity agreement (S.L. 1963, Ch. 268). Requirements concerned additional information including the size of license plates, the print size displayed on the plates, and registration renewal (S.L. 1963, Ch. 270).

1967       Expanded powers and duties of the Registrar included designating where a branch office could be set up as well as providing suitable forms for the main office and for branch offices (S.L. 1967, Ch. 294).

1969       Legislation changed the vehicle registration dates from January to March with renewal dates beginning in April (S.L. 1969, Ch. 336). The Commissioner of Insurance assumed certain duties involving the administration of the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund (S.L. 1969, Ch. 351).  Additionally, the Century Code [NDCC 39-17-10] required that repayments be made on behalf of the motorist from the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund as supervised by the courts (S.L. 1969, Ch. 352).

1974       The first personalized license plate was issued by the Motor Vehicle Department.

1975       Legislation amended the Century Code [NDCC 39-02-03] concerning motor vehicle branch offices (S.L. 1975, Ch. 324) and expanded the duty of the Registrar in matters involving cancellation, revocation, or suspension of certificates for motor vehicles (S.L. 1975, Ch. 324).

1983       Amendments related to the Century Code [NDCC 26.1-23-01] concerning the Unsatisfied Judgment Fund and the Commissioner of Insurance administering the Fund. The Attorney General [NDCC 26.1-23-02] could appoint legal counsel for the Fund (S.L. 1983, Ch. 332).

1989       Through the consolidation of the State Highway Department and Motor Vehicle Department the North Dakota Department of Transportation was created (S.L. 1989, Ch. 72) with changes that gave responsibility of the office to the Director of the Department of Transportation. Branch offices were also included in this change.  Legislation addressed the investment of the State Highway Fund and the use of income generated by the Fund (S.L. 1989, Ch. 332).

RECORD SERIES


Motor Vehicle (Department of Transportation/Highway Department)
30354 Registrar’s Files.
30629 Audit Reports.
30630 Apportionment Record.
30631 Auto Theft Fund Ledger.
30632 Motor Vehicle Registration Fund Ledger.
30633 Distribution Record.
30634 Distribution of Operating Expenses.
32254 Motor Vehicle Division. Registration Record.

SOURCES

Gray, David P.  Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
North Dakota Century Code.
North Dakota Secretary of State Blue Book. 
North Dakota State Legislature Session Laws.
Website nd.gov for nicknames.

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