While most people stayed home a majority of the time, suddenly once-clogged interstates and highways became clear. That space encouraged some reckless drivers to cosplay as Brian O’Conner and Dominic Toretto from the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise.
But people on the roads aren’t superheroes who survive crashing a muscle car into a guardrail, leaping from the hood, catching someone mid-air over a chasm, then landing on the hood of another car. Dangerous driving has real consequences for people, as evident in the growing number of crashes in which someone is seriously injured or dies.
It’s why license plates are helpful for law enforcement to track alleged scofflaws for speeding, impaired driving and things like expired car tabs or missing license plates.
The latter issue got the attention of David Reed, of Edmonds, who emailed The Daily Herald after noticing plenty of vehicles without license plates.
“I drive on (Interstate) 5 from Lynnwood to Marysville and back several times a week and I’ve noticed numerous cars and trucks without (license) plates, often times speeding, driving erratically,” Reed wrote.
Most of these potential scofflaws he’s seen are driving “newish and high-end cars,” he wrote. If missing plates aren’t enforced enough, he wondered if his 81-year-old mother should stop paying for plates and tabs.
I certainly don’t recommend that option.
Often new Washington plates are mailed to the registered owner. That means there isn’t a law enforcement officer monitoring that they’re put on correctly, or at all.
Washington State Patrol trooper Kelsey Harding said officers often stop drivers for registration (car tabs) infractions, but didn’t think missing or improperly placed plates were as common of a problem.
“It is out there,” Harding said. “People don’t always register their vehicles and do the right thing. That’s going to happen no matter what.”
The state patrol’s reporting system has the same code for plate and tab incidents, so Harding wasn’t able to determine how many traffic stops were specifically for a plate violation versus a car tab infraction.
In 2018, there were 7,760 traffic stops related to either in Snohomish County, with 1,103 citations (tickets). A similar number, though a little lower, had been issued in 2019.
Then both numbers dropped over 2020, 2021 and 2022 to between 3,359 and 3,985 traffic stops. Over that time, there were 397, 387 and 407 citations.
So far this year, there were 2,177 traffic stops with 263 citations.
If there’s a verbal warning, there’s no record.
Sometimes people have temporary plates that get taped to a rear window, which other drivers might not see, Harding said.
That is likely to change soon, as the Department of Licensing rolls out a new temporary plate that is durable enough to go where the metal plates get mounted.
Drivers operating a vehicle without a license plate was an issue that FOX 17 reported in 2021 for Grand Rapids, Michigan, saying “we’re seeing it more and more out on the roads.” Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico made it an enforcement emphasis in February this year as well, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Some people in New York City started a “guerilla activist” group to report vehicles with covered or missing plates, The Gothamist reported last year.
Washington doesn’t have a similar system in place for citizen activism (or snitching, depending on your opinion).
For now, that leaves plate violations up to law enforcement vigilance.
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