New York, in 1901, was the first State to require registration of all motor vehicles. By 1915 all States had a registration law, but it was not until 1921 that annual registration was required by all States. In addition to providing regulatory control over the rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles, the States soon found that registration taxes and license fees provided a major source of revenue for highway purposes. Until 1929, this source provided the major share of revenue derived from highway users.
The year in which the first registration law was enacted in each State and the type of registration (whether permanent or recurrent) is given in table MV-230.
The annual vehicle registration data varies among the States. Although many States continue to register specific vehicle types on a calendar year basis, all States use some form of the "staggered" system to register motor vehicles. The "staggered" system permits a distribution of the renewal workload throughout all months. Most States allow preregistration or permit "grace periods" to better distribute the annual registration workload.
In order to present vehicle registration data uniformly for all States, the information is shown as nearly as possible on a calendar-year basis. Insofar as possible, the registrations reported exclude transfers and reregistrations and any other factors that could otherwise result in duplication in the vehicle counts.
A diversity of registration practices exists among the States. In general, motor vehicles are classified as automobiles, buses, and trucks. Motorcycles, motorscooters, and motor bicycles are not classified as motor vehicles; nor does the general term "motor vehicle" include trailers and semitrailers.
Registration practices for commercial vehicles differ greatly among the States. Some States register a tractor-semitrailer combination as a single unit; others register the tractor and the semitrailer separately. Regardless of how they were registered, only the power units have been included in the truck count. Some States register buses with trucks or automobiles. These and other major differences have made it necessary to supplement the data submitted by the States with information obtained from special studies and other sources. Table MV-200 records registrations of automobiles, buses, and trucks by years since 1900. Table MV-201 shows registrations classified by vehicle types, by States for each year since 1900. Prior to 1985, the automobile category included personal passenger vans, passenger minivans, and utility-type vehicles. Beginning with the 1985 data, these vehicles are included with trucks.
The truck category includes light trucks to the extent they can be identified and separated from automobiles. Although the detail of motor-vehicle data has improved in recent years, it is not yet possible to obtain from all States separate data on single-unit trucks and combinations. Some States provide data for light trucks and truck tractors, but for many States, the FHWA estimates this information using other data sources, such as the Truck Inventory and Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census. Table VM-201A, found in the Roadway Extent, Characteristics, and Performance Section, estimates, by vehicle type, the amount of national travel, the number of highway vehicles registered, and the total gallonage of fuel consumed on the highways.
Motor vehicle revenues
The tremendous growth of the motor-vehicle population after the turn of the century made itself felt in the mounting pressure to obtain better roads. The available revenues from property taxes and other sources were then inadequate to meet the highway demands. New revenues were needed, and the imposition of motor-vehicle taxes resulted. Table MV-202, found in the Highway Finance Section, records receipts from motor-vehicle registration fees and associated license and permit fees as well as special taxes and fees levied on carriers for hire since 1921. A detailed classification of receipts is not available for years prior to 1934, but classes of taxes and fees have been segregated beginning with that year.
The diversity of taxes and fees collected has made it necessary to group them into broad general classes, the most important being registration fees. The amounts shown are those collected solely as highway-user revenues and do not include any amounts, such as personal property levies, that are derived from taxes other than those related to motor-vehicle ownership and operation. (Although portions of these revenues are later used in some States for nonhighway purposes, it is the source rather than the expenditure of the revenues that has determined their inclusion here.) Motor-vehicle registration fee schedules (table MV-103) and administrative provisions governing the disposition of State motor-vehicle and motor-carrier receipts (table MV-106) appear in a separate FHWA publication entitled Highway Taxes and Fees, How They Are Collected and Distributed.
Use of Data
All State reported data are analyzed by FHWA for completeness, reasonableness, consistency, and compliance with data reporting instructions contained in A Guide to Reporting Highway Statistics. State reported data is adjusted if necessary to eliminate mistakes and to improve data uniformity among the States. The analysis and adjustment process is accomplished in cooperation with the States supplying the data.
The FHWA data include all vehicles which have been registered at any time throughout the calendar year. As such, data include vehicles which were retired during the year and vehicles that were registered in more than one State. In some States, it is also possible that contrary to the FHWA reporting instructions, vehicles which have been registered twice in the same State may be reported as two vehicles.