Cars and truck on suburban street, police cruiser with pulled over vehicle.

Illegal Temp Tags Present a Challenge to DC Lawmakers

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It seems to have become more and more common for illegal temp tags to be used on the roads, but it is a challenging issue to peg down. Attorney Joe Kelly describes how, in his DC neighborhood, it is common to drive around with fake temp tags to avoid insurance and vehicle registration. As he describes:

“If you get in a wreck with one of those folks, they leave the scene as fast as they can. I guess the calculus is: ‘If I stay at the scene, I get in trouble right now. If I run, I *might* get in trouble *later*.’”

One can see how this can be a problem, and even a matter of public safety. Motorists involved in accidents with these people will have no way of verifying their identity. Pedestrian and cyclist victims will likely have even less recourse if a driver decides to hit and run. And if they are fortunate enough to get the numbers on the illegal temp tag, when police run a search, they may be led on a wild goose chase. The tags could be under a fake name, or even under someone else’s identity, leading to erroneous tickets to someone entirely uninvolved, as one former DC resident knows all too well.

The woman, after moving to Portland, Oregon, was confused when she received multiple tickets at her address in Oregon, for violations in DC. The tickets showed a vehicle that was not even hers, but the temporary tags matched the ones she previously had. Even more confusing, she had already shredded these temporary tags upon receiving her permanent license plate. After some unsuccessful appeals, she eventually was able to get the tickets waived, but it took the aid of DC councilmember Charles Allen to do it. Unfortunately, there is also no guarantee it won’t happen to her again.

Cars and truck on suburban street, police cruiser with pulled over vehicle.
The issue of illegal temp tags goes deeper than simply pulling people over for expired temporary tags. To evade the law, some people make or purchase fake temp tags, and it’s simply too tall a task to handle by just happening upon them on the road.

Clearly it is a difficult problem to address. As detailed by Kelly Whittier, Communications Director to DC Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office, it is not clear exactly how much this occurs in the district. It’s pretty tough to measure something you cannot track. And if you can’t get clear numbers, it’s harder to know the best way to address the problem. It’s not even a question of simply ticketing or booting or towing cars with expired temp tags, says Whittier. Funds for parking enforcement are limited, and the officers in charge of parking enforcement do not have the same purview or jurisdiction as DC Metropolitan Police (MPD), who in their turn are not in charge of parking enforcement.

The problem appears to have been prevalent for many years. As this WTOPnews article from 2015 details, “Sources tell WTOP that this crime is common. Criminals make or purchase counterfeit temporary tags, then drive with reckless abandon because any tickets or unpaid toll road trips would go to their victim.” Based on this, attorney Joe Kelly’s assessment sure seems to be on the money.

A task force has been created to address the issue in DC, involving Councilmember Cheh, the Department of Public Works, MPD, to target these fake tags. Whittier details that these fake tags are reported online frequently by their road safety advocates. Once the task force has had time to meet, they hope to have a greater understanding of the actual numbers. But this may not happen until people start getting pulled over and ticketed for these tags, which, again, is a challenge to carry out when it’s something people are acquiring illegally, on which they may be changing the dates. The FBI has even weighed in, as described here by this local NBC affiliate from Austin, TX – check it out for more information on just how people might be acquiring these illegal temp tags.

Councilmember Cheh recently left several Tweets detailing some of the frustrations in trying to address this and other issues. Clearly there is not a resolution to this story at this time, however if DC is to achieve its ambitious goals as part of the commendable Vision Zero Initiative, the issue will need to be addressed. We will have our eye on any developments.

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