Case Study: Vehicle Registration Compliance for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Categories: Studies

February 12, 2015 - Phil Schoech, Terry Schoenherr, Dave Armstrong, Tom Ayen, Jeff Carroll, Travis Grau, Jane Hosking, , Teresa Sholts, Rita Sweeney, and Brad Wagner

Terry Schoenherr

Terry Schoenherr

Phil Schoech

Phil Schoech

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) sponsored a study to investigate the number of unregistered vehicles in use on Wisconsin roads. Because about one-third of Wisconsin’s transportation revenue comes from vehicle registration fees ($634 million in 2012 alone) even small levels of non-compliance could have a considerable impact on the department’s coffers. Additionally, a recent increase in registration fees had some observers hypothesizing that non-compliance had increased. Knowing the true rate of non-compliance would help the WisDOT determine the effectiveness of the current registration process, and this information would be useful in deciding whether or not to change the process. Naturally, an accurate assessment of current non-compliance is an important first step towards determining if a new compliance initiative would pay for itself.

WisDOT hired Christensen Associates to conduct a study to estimate the number of automobiles and light trucks on the roads without current registrations, and determine the reasons for non-compliance. Our final report, Vehicle Registration Compliance in Wisconsin, was provided in August, 2014.

Due to concerns about self-selection and accuracy of responses from non-compliant vehicle owners, we opted to head out into the field to observe non-compliance ourselves. Since there are approximately 4 million registered vehicles dispersed across the 65,000 square miles of urban and rural landscape in Wisconsin, our first step was to design a sampling approach that would accurately reflect the population of vehicles in the entire state with a minimum of data collection effort and expense.

Our research teams visited eight Wisconsin counties to collect photographic images of 19,000 vehicles located in publicly accessible parking lots. From these photos, we collected license plate information; the month and year of the applied registration stickers; and the vehicle make, model, and color. To streamline the considerable data entry effort for the sampled vehicles, we built an in-house software application to display the photographs so that our staff could efficiently enter license plate information. This custom application cross-referenced the entered license plate numbers with the DMV registration records. The project team reviewed the likely vehicle type and expected registration status on each DMV record match and then confirmed or updated this information based on the displayed photo.

After completing the data entry for the sampled vehicles, determining which vehicles were properly registered was a straightforward task. Our research found that just 2.1% of sampled vehicles were not currently registered at the time they were photographed. Furthermore, more than half of the owners with expired vehicle registrations submitted late renewals shortly after the expiration dates. Less than 1% of all sampled vehicles had expired registrations three months after they were photographed.

Being based in Madison, we at Christensen Associates were pleased to have had the opportunity to visit all corners of the state as part of our work on this project. Subjectively, we think the discovered high rate of vehicle registration compliance speaks well of our neighbors. And we’re pleased to have provided solid data that WisDOT can use to manage their considerable operations. The full text of our project report is available at the link above. It includes other compelling results, such as differences by geographic regions and observations distinguished by the weight classes of light trucks.