Jonathan Kraut | A Common Sense Change on Your New License Plates

Typically, each January, with a scattering of criminal sentence reductions bills and often authorizations for some higher taxes and hidden and fees, our state Legislature enacts a slew of mindless and unimportant new laws.

There is this year a new law on the books that finally makes sense. I am wondering what took so long?

How many newscasts have we heard that the getaway car of a bank robbery, midnight raid on a pharmacy, or home invasion had only paper plates? 

As we might guess, criminals know that paper plates on vehicles essentially make a getaway car invisible. But if enforced properly, no longer will the identity of a silver Toyota or a black Mercedes stay anonymous.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a Democrat representing the 22nd Assembly District, which encompasses most of the San Francisco Peninsula, proposed Assembly Bill 516. Mullin is serving as the Assembly speaker pro tempore and the bill was signed into law effective Jan. 1.

The bill requires that vehicles sold by California dealers display temporary paper license plates or permanent license plates already issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

If you notice, these temporary plates are already posted in the license plate placard of new cars and are uniquely numbered in bold font for all to see. 

Wow — no more anonymous paper plates from the dealer?

This could also mean that law enforcement can pull over and cite vehicles not conforming to this new law. 

As of 2019, when a dealer reports a sale, the DMV system will electronically generate numbered temporary license plates to be mounted to the vehicle before leaving the dealership. Since paper plates are only valid for 90 days, as of the end of March, there “should” be no paper plates being legally used in California.

The other issue, not exactly enforced that I can tell, is related to California Vehicle Code 5200, which states, “When two license plates are issued by the department for use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear.”

How many vehicles do you notice having no front license plate mounted? I am not sure if dealers are required to provide a mount for the front plate, but the last two cars when I bought them new had no front plate bracket and I had to ask the dealer to mount a bracket for me as they were not apparently a standard item.

So, I am wondering what good is a back plate if, despite the vehicle code, there is no front placard. I am also wondering if law enforcement is paying attention.

Now that the paper plate issue has been remedied by AB516, it is up to law enforcement to start vigorously enforcing the law.

How wonderful would it be if criminals on the way to or from a crime scene were pulled over because the vehicle plates are missing, paper, concealed, or counterfeit? 

Perhaps you recall a recent spike in police pursuits of stolen cars. This is because the cameras mounted at most intersections and on our freeways are linked to a law enforcement database. These cameras scan and process thousands of license plates a second. Also, many police vehicles are now equipped with plate scanners as well.

These cameras are not picking up vehicles recently stolen and transmitting data in real time to patrol units. Getting away with stealing cars is now much harder than ever before.

I can’t wait for this same technology to be used to snag those using paper, stolen, counterfeit, or hidden plates.

My first advice to you is if you have paper plates or are missing a front license plate mount, remedy this right away. Expect starting in April, those not in compliance can and should be pulled over and ticketed.

My second advice to you is to keep pressure on and encourage law enforcement to enforce AB516 and VC5200 as it will have a positive effect and will likely reduce criminal acts.

My last recommendation is to elect and re-elect representatives who pass smart and common-sense laws. I know Assemblyman Mullin is not a local, but it is OK to appreciate good work and recognize those who really do our bidding. I am looking forward to making one of our local law makers a hero for similarity smart ideas very soon.

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO private security firm, is the COO of an Acting Conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.     

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