When Burning Man first moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990, there was hardly any structure and certainly no roads like we know today. In fact, there were so few people on playa that driving wasn’t an issue. When our population grew to several thousand people all congregated together, though, driving became more dangerous. In 1996, there were a number of vehicle vs person accidents, including one with an intoxicated driver running over two occupied tents. Serious injuries resulted, and an already questionable situation was pushed over the edge. It became clear that free-for-all driving wasn’t compatible with a primarily bike- and pedestrian-oriented city. The city was also ready for some more organization that made driving less workable, and less needed.
“Art cars” had been a part of the Black Rock City (BRC) culture since the early years on the playa, and no one wanted to see that go away, even if most driving would. So starting in 1997 only art cars were allowed to drive the streets of BRC. At first, you could drive if you were driving an art car, and if you were driving something else, you were asked to stop. After a couple years of this, it became apparent that a little more organization and planning was needed, and the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV), then a part of the Rangers organization, was formed.