Last week, the Department of Mutant Vehicles hosted an excellent workshop for vehicle builders, and they let me sit in and take notes to share.
What does the Burning Man DMV Do?
The job is to license vehicles that move on the playa during the event. That includes MVs, disabled vehicles, and staff vehicles. We review all applications that get submitted for MV's and disabled. They communicate with artists year-round about the process, provide education and communication. At the event they document and photograph and register all the vehicles that are there as required by the BLM. They also provide training and support for volunteer staff, and work with many other departments on the playa. The DMV also coordinates with law enforcement officials during the event.
- Mutant Vehicles are not art cars. The reason it's called the Department of Mutant Vehicles and not the Department of Art Cars is that there are a lot of cars driving around that people may think is a beautiful work of art.... but they may not met the mutant vehicle criteria. Street cars, golf carts, etc.
- E-Bikes - if you meet Nevada requirements for E-Bikes then you do not need to register for a mutant vehicle license. Small stand-up electric scooters do not need to register), but larger models or scooters with large modified decks do need to register - as do electric scooters with seats that do not meet Nevada's definition of an electric bike.
- Motorized coolers are not authorized. They are not governed by the Burning Man DMV, it is a Nevada law enforcement issue - they can and will issue citations.
Important Mutant Vehicle Considerations
- Is it something you're building to help you get around, or something you're building to help others get around, or something you're building to dazzle people visually?
- A great mutant vehicle is a visually stimulating, permanently modified, moveable piece of art that does not look like a base vehicle. For example, when you have a golf cart as a base vehicle... if you see it and go "wow, that's an awesome elephant!" then it is likely to get approved. If you see it and go "that's a golf cart that sort of looks like an elephant" then it is less likely to get a license.
- Providing transportation on its own will not give you a mutant vehicle license.
- The rules are that if you get licensed, you are required to be a public conveyance. If a Burning Man participant encounters a vehicle that is restricting passengers or requiring wristbands, please get that documented (take a picture of the DMV tag on the rear bumper) and notify the DMV. Fundraiser rewards/gift rides on mutant vehicles are fine, but not booking whole nights or multiple nights of private parties. If enough reports come in, it could impact a vehicle's ability to get licensed in the future.
- TRAILERS If applying for vehicle with trailer, both the tow vehicle and trailer must be mutated. Vehicle safety is very important. Trailer hitch area needs to be very well lit. Keep people from being able to go between the vehicle and trailer. If you are planning a vehicle with a trailer, expect much more scrutiny. There have been 2 fatalities involving mutant vehicles - both involved vehicles with trailers.
- Don't just think about how you and your team would behave on the playa, but think about how random participants who may not be acting in a sober or rational state of mind will behave.
- Make sure you have people assisting the driver (spotters) to help watch the vehicle and the space around the vehicle, both out on the playa and in the city.
The Application Process
- The team gets together regularly throughout the registration process (you have until noon PDT on May 14th to submit your mutant vehicle application).
- Send photos, send drawings, get your point across! Wow factor is a term that they use a lot. That applies separately to both daytime and night time vehicles.
- More information on the application is better than less, with little information it slows down the review and approval process (since they have to try and follow up via emails for more information), and is also less likely to be successful. The team reviews each application, and makes decisions as a group.
- Descriptions should be 2-3 paragraphs minimum.
- Day and night pics/images are very helpful. You can submit up to 5 images - at a minimum, include a 3/4 view, front, and side view, and a top view if applicable. Do not send collages, please send individual images.
- Include links and URL's to sites with build pics. Do not send links to Facebook pages, flickr, or anything that requires a user account login.
- The Burning Man DMV wants for builders to be successful, but they need you to put your best foot forward to allow them to adequately assess your plans to build a mutant vehicle.
- After the team has reviewed an application and made a decision, you will get one of a few responses. Approval means that you will receive an invitation to build and bring your vehicle to Burning Man, where it will need to be inspected before receiving a Mutant Vehicle license.
- Approved for day or approved for night.
- Approved for day and night.
- Approved for playa only, meaning that it may not drive through city streets, except in a straight line from the camp to the open playa.
- If they need more info, you will have a 2-week deadline to get back to them with the info they need.
- If it does not meet the criteria, the DMV will provide as specific feedback as possible on why.
- Contact the team via email@example.com if you need help with the application or sending images (or need to send additional information). Be sure to use the confirmation number from your MV application on follow-up emails.
- It is better to apply early... For a few reasons. Between a third to a half of applications slam the team in the last few days, this makes it difficult for the team to review applications in a timely fashion.
- Most burners who've been at least once have an jdea of what a mutant vehicle looks like, and probably has a sense for what the best 50% and the worst 50% looks like. If you and your team are working to build something you feel will be in the top 50% and you execute your plan, you will probably be okay. If you're aiming for the bottom, you probably won't be successful.
- You do not need to build your vehicle before you can apply. Write up and draw up your plans and apply early if you can.
- If you are invited to build and bring your vehicle to Burning Man - print that invitation and put it with your ticket, because you will need that when you show up at the gate. Without the letter, they will park you in D-Lot until you get in touch with the DMV.
- If you are not invited, please take a few deep breaths and read the email again - the DMV will give an explanation behind their decision, which can help you make better plans and lead to a successful application next year.
- Last year, there were 125 mutant vehicle applications that had flame effects. When you check that you have flame effects on the web application form, it opens up a bunch of additional questions that are relevant to fire safety. That application will get sent to Jack Schroll/DustDevil on the Fire Art Safety Team (FAST) for his review and approval of flame effects before it goes to the DMV for review.
- The discharge of flame effects must be at least 10 feet off the ground. The Burning Man web site has pages and pages of information on how to do this safely.
- After you get your day/night license, there is another division of the DMV about 75 feet away, called Salem's Lot. They have flame effects inspectors daily from 2-6pm starting Saturday pre-event. Once approved, you get a cool flame effects laminate that doubles as great Burning Man schwag. The BLM will stop and ask MV drivers about the use of flame effects, and they will ask to see that laminate, and they will cite people without flame effects laminates.
- You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. They are not there to teach you how to build flame effects, but will answer questions about safety and licensing.
Heading To The Playa
- Before you leave for BRC, make sure you have your invitation letter printed and bring it with you. If you are driving your Mutant Vehicle through the gates to Burning Man, you will need a vehicle pass. If the Mutant Vehicle is towed on a trailer, the Mutant Vehicle does not need a vehicle pass.
- DMV Hours: From Saturday pre-event through Friday during the event, 11AM to 10:30PM. On burn day, they're open 11AM to 3PM.
- When you arrive at DMV they have a check in, a greeter will give you paperwork to read and sign while you wait. Safe operations guidelines (speed limit, not raise up lots of dust, adhere to sound policy, give right of way to peds and bicyclist, give rides to the public, stop for law enforcement, rangers, etc). Consequences for not abiding the guidelines could range from being asked to take vehicle back to camp and parking it, to impounding in D-Lot, or in extreme cases being removed from the event entirely.
- The inspector will be expecting the vehicle to look exactly like it was described in the application. Most vehicles that are not approved these days are vehicles that are dramatically different from the mutant vehicle application.
- Night and day inspections require separate day and night inspections.
- You need to provide a location on the left hand side of the back of the vehicle where the license tag/bumper sticker can be applied. If you don't have a space for a license, one will not be issued.
- You will be expected to adhere to the sound policy. If they get reports of your vehicle violating that policy, it will negatively affect your ability to get approved in the future.
- Flame effects and propane need to be turned off when you come to DMV for inspection, and sound must be turned down so that only you can hear it.
Operating Your Mutant Vehicle At Burning Man
- Speed limit is 5mph. Do not kick up excessive dust - drive slower if needed.
- Black Rock Rangers Intercept team - they specifically monitor MV's day and night, looking for reckless behavior, etc.
- Esplanade and the A street are closed to Mutant Vehicles, they are for pedestrians and bicycles only. Promenades (at 3/6/9 o'clock) between Esplanade and Man, and the Inner circle surrounding the Man are for pedestrians and bicycles only.
- Dedicated large scale sound areas in deep playa! New for this year, info to be published soon. These areas will have more porta-potties!
- Respecting art installations! As you approach large installations, bring sound levels down. Large loud vehicles can be very disruptive at art installations, turn it down and be respectful.
The Burning man DMV will notify vehicle owners post event if there are severe violations, or numerous reports about a vehicle.
Prospective applications, or multiple applications for multiple vehicle projects are okay (and encouraged). If you then decide not to build one (or any) vehicle, just notify the DMV via email to let them know the project is being canceled.
Insurance... Burning Man provides no insurance for you. Insurance is a good idea. Ask your insurance provider about parade, festival, or event production insurance.
Disabled vehicles have no requirement for mutation! Some disabled burners decorate their vehicles in some way and that's great, but it is 100% optional. Please take not of the disabled vehicle flag they'll be displaying, and do not harass disabled burners for lack of mutation.