For decades, California had a curious loophole that allowed people to drive without license plates on their car.
When you bought a new car, the dealer would simply affix a four-by-one inch registration slip onto the windshield, and voila, you were ready for the road. The idea was that the temporary registration would tide you over until the real plates arrived in the mail a few weeks later.
The temporary registration was good for 90 days, or until receipt of your plates, whichever came first. There was a slight issue, though: the registration slip was so tiny that no human could tell if it was expired or not.
As a result, many folks — maybe even some of you — never bothered to install the plates, or severely delayed the installation of said plates, to bask in that new car glory. The assumption was that, as long as the car looked reasonably fresh, you'd fly under the radar at full liberty to evade tolls, conduct hit-and-runs, be a terrible driver, and commit other heinous crimes without a trace.
In place of a real license plate would be a colorfully-rendered paper or plastic plate, often an advertisement for HONDERP OF WEST COVINA (or some other godforsaken town whose sole commercial tax base relies on auto dealers), instead of an identifiable letter-and-number combination that can be traced back to the actual owner.
Thankfully, California's legislators have gotten wind of the issue and passed Assembly Bill 516. Under the law, all vehicles sold on or after January 1, 2019, are required to have temporary license plates. If you live in the state, you've probably seen them around. These paper plates are full-sized stand-ins for the real thing, with the vehicle make, VIN, and expiration date for all to see.
Yet halfway into 2019, it's shocking to see how many people are still driving around California without license plates.
On certain streets in Los Angeles, you'll invariably encounter the vulgar Range Rover or Bentley or Maserati with tinted windows and PLATINUM MOTORSPORT on the back. Or a clapped out Tesla Model X with condensation in its taillights and a legacy ZERO EMISSIONS plate that has since faded from white to beige. Walking home the other day, I counted at least one unplated vehicle parked on every block.
So here's your public service announcement, my fellow Californians.
If you're still driving around without license plates, stop. We all know you purchased your car last year, before January 1, 2019. You're not fooling anyone, and all you're doing is risking a traffic citation.
And to that CAR PROS Kia Sportage driver who cut me off last night, do us all a favor and put your damn plates on and perhaps you'll drive more carefully.
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