Drivers Privacy Protection Act and Searching For Vehicle Records

The Drivers Privacy Protection Act helps ensure that driver's records are kept from being distributed to the general public unless there is a lawful reason.  This is in due part because in the past anyone could go to the DMV and pay a few dollars to get these records with no questions asked.  The problem with this was when people were getting harassed or stalked due to their personal information becoming available.  

The statute prohibits the disclosure of personal information (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2725) without the express consent of the person to whom such information applies, with the exception of certain circumstances set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 2721. These rules apply to Departments of Motor Vehicles as well as other "authorized recipient[s] of personal information", and imposes record-keeping requirements on those "authorized recipients".

The permissible uses are:

  • For any government agency to carry out its functions
  • For use in connection with "matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft", including disclosure "in connection with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft, motor vehicle emissions, motor vehicle product alterations, recalls, or advisories, performance monitoring of motor vehicles and dealers by motor vehicle manufacturers" removal of non-owner records from the original owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers to carry out the purposes of the Automobile Information Disclosure Act, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Saving Act, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, the Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992, and the Clean Air Act
  • For use in the normal course of business by a legitimate business or its agents, employees, or contractors, but only to: verify the accuracy of personal information
  • correct information
  • For use in connection with any matter before a court or arbitration proceeding.
  • For producing statistical reports and other research, provided that personal information is not published.
  • For use by insurance companies.
  • For providing notice to owners of towed vehicles.
  • For use by licensed private investigation agencies, for a permitted DPPA use.
  • For use by employers.
  • For use by private toll transportation facilities.
  • For response to requests from motor vehicle departments.
  • For the bulk distribution or surveys, marketing materials, or solicitations (opt-in only).
  • When written consent of the individual is provided.
  • For other uses specifically authorized by state laws.
  • The act also makes it illegal to obtain drivers' information for unlawful purposes or to make false representations to obtain such information. The act establishes criminal fines for noncompliance, and establishes a civil cause of action for drivers against those who unlawfully obtain their information.

So when a client comes to me requesting a driver record say to prove that a ex-wife was paying on a particular asset, then I would request a court order from that individual in order to provide my documents.  In this way, I can prove to any entity that there was a legitimate need for me to provide those documents (thus protecting myself and also the individuals documents).  Which I think is one of the most important aspects of being a licensed private investigator.  Knowing how to protect yourself, your client, and other people's sensitive information.  Word of mouth alone is not a good enough reason, get it in writing.  

I tell clients that getting access to these types of records is easy but they need to provide me with the documents first.  

If I'm doing a skip-trace and just using the information in research capacity to locate someone, then that is also acceptable as I am not distributing their personal information without lawful cause to a third party.  


Find out more about the law here.