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‘Dear DVLA… where are my socks?’

12:00am | & Lifestyle

Checking if a vehicle you own has current and valid road tax used to be straightforward enough – you could just look at the tax disc displayed in the windscreen.

But since tax discs were abolished by the government in October 2014, it’s not always so easy any more. Nearly 98% of customer interactions with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are now carried out using its ‘digital services’ – in other words, they are done online using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Gone are the days of queuing up in the Post Office to tax your vehicle, handing over a filled-in form and some cash in return for your tax disc. The system was changed partly because more and more people were using the DVLA’s online services, but the change means there is now little option but to do so.

You can tax a vehicle online by clicking here and you can check if a vehicle you own is currently taxed by clicking here. If you are the registered keeper of a vehicle, you should still receive a reminder from the DVLA when the tax is about to expire, prompting you to renew it.

But technology doesn’t stand still and now there is an even quicker way to check if your vehicle is taxed, by using a voice-activated ‘virtual assistant’. You may already have one in your home, or you might have seen them advertised on TV. Put simply, they are a microphone/speaker attached to your home computer and internet which enables you to ask it a question and receive a spoken answer. You can also do the same directly through your smartphone if it has the right software installed. If you believe the TV ads, there’s virtually nothing it can’t tell you.

The two most popular systems are the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Both require a ‘wake word’ to activate them. For example, you might say: “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?” or “OK Google, will it rain today?” The ‘wake words’ are “Alexa” or “OK Google”.

Many government agencies can now be accessed via these ‘virtual assistants’ and the DVLA is no exception. Its services on Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa have been used more than 47,000 times by more than 20,000 people since they were launched two years ago, and those numbers will only grow. Google users get in touch by saying: “OK Google, ask DVLA…”. For Amazon it’s: “Alexa, ask Vehicle Enquiry…”.

If you don’t already use these systems this might all sound like gobbledygook to you, but like it or not, it’s the future. However, it’s comforting to know that even those using the technology don’t always get it right. While most people ask when their vehicle tax is due, the DVLA has just released a list of some of the more unusual questions it has been asked via Alexa and Google. They include:

  • how do you get chewing gum off a leather settee?
  • how do I apply for Love Island?
  • do you know a good vegan recipe for chicken?
  • are red cars the fastest?
  • what time is lunch?
  • is it going to rain in Ellesmere Port today?
  • what did you think of the Bumblebee movie?
  • how can I stop my flatmate drinking my milk?
  • where are my socks?
  • is this rash normal?

DVLA Chief Executive Julie Lennard said: “We want motorists to be able use our services quickly and easily and voice assistants are becoming more and more popular. While some of the questions customers have asked us fall a little outside our area of expertise, we will continue to make our services simpler, better and safer.”

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