Say Goodbye to New Car Paper Plates

These are what you need.
These are what you need.

New car paper plates: Vehicle pursuit suspects always seem to have them, which can present myriad problems for law enforcement. They hinder the government's ability to issue red light–camera tickets and toll-road fines. And cops don't know who's behind the wheel of a car without state-issued metal plates.

For those reasons, new legislation is about to make paper plates in California extinct.

This week Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 516, which will phase out those rectangular auto dealer advertisements in favor of temporary plates that must be present when a vehicle leaves a new or used car lot.

"AB 516 will modernize California’s vehicle identification system by assigning temporary license plates at the point of sale before a vehicle drives off the lot," according to the office of the lawmaker who wrote the bill, Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Mullin.

Paper plates are supposed to be used for no longer than 90 days as the Department of Motor Vehicles gets your permanent plates in the mail. Window registration stickers let cops know you're legit, but they aren't legible unless police are up close and personal.

These somewhat anonymous paper plates have exacerbated L.A.'s festering hit-and-run epidemic, Mullin argues.

His legislation was inspired in part by the August 2013 death of 35-year-old pedestrian Michael Bonanomi, who was struck by a white Mercedes on Ventura Boulevard and Fairway Avenue in Studio City. A suspect has never been caught. 

"The car that struck and killed Michael only had paper dealer plates, and to this day the driver has not been located," Mullin said. "While this law will not bring Michael back, in the future it will go a long way in making sure that an offending vehicle and its driver are easier to identify and bring to justice."

In a statement, Bonanomi's family said they were "thrilled" that Brown signed the law, which Mullin says also will restore $19 million a year lost to "toll evasion" in the Golden State.

But not everyone is as thrilled as the Bonanomis.

The group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety says the law, which will replace paper plates with numbered temporary plates, will be a hardship on the poor and people of color. The easier recognition of out-of-compliance cars will add up to tickets and arrests for people who can't afford to keep their vehicles smogged and registered, the group, known as CARS, argues. 

The bill ignores the "serious problem of innocent people being pulled repeatedly over and ticketed, and having their cars impounded, when their vehicles have not been properly registered, through no fault of their own," CARS said in a statement. "Such incidents are destined to increase under the bill, as law enforcement will be able to readily scan the temp tags and target people whose tags have expired, and who have not received their permanent plates."

Of course, such problems don't seem to afflict the rich — people like the late Steve Jobs, who reportedly loathed license plates so much that he got a new ride every time the grace period on his temporary registration was up.

In any case, the paper plate phaseout doesn't happen until 2019.


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