AB 516: Changing Lives One Temp Tag at a Time

Paper placard in place of permanent plate

When California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Kevin Mullin sponsored AB 516 on July 25, 2016, it wasn’t the first time the Bay Area-based Assemblyman and Speaker Pro Tempore had brought a bill of this sort to the Capitol. A news report on San Francisco’s KTVU 2 Investigates series in 2013 prompted the Northern California lawmaker to pursue something similar in 2014. It met with opposition from car dealers and the DMV back then and got no further than supposition. But a tragedy down in the southern part of the state, as well as growing law enforcement concerns, prompted a second try on the bill. Effective January 1, 2019, California once again joins many other states in requiring all motor vehicles to display a temporary license plate instead of simply taping a Report of Sale (ROS) on the front windshield.

Once again, you may ask? Yes, way back when California also had temporary paper plates displaying the ROS number in the rear vehicle registration plate holder (that’s actually what your license plate holder is called). This was discontinued sometime in the 1970s for reasons not completely clear, although these were flimsy affairs that disintegrated after the first car washing. That may be what led to the state simply getting rid of them altogether, however, without those clear pieces of temporary identification in lieu of permanent plates, several issues have been building in the state. These ranged from cheating toll plazas, committing petty and more serious crimes, and unsolved and untraceable hit-and-run injuries and, in some cases, fatalities. Conversely, consumer groups and civil liberty advocates have raised concerns over the adverse effects such easily identifiable temporary markers on a vehicle may have on lower income drivers.

But what does AB 516 really mandate? First, let’s understand how the license plate came about.

“elle ne doit jamais être cachée.”

The days of the first license plates

Champs Élysées, Paris, France in the 1890s

In Paris, France, the Department of the Seine laid down the first law requiring the owners of these new road locomotives motoring along the Champs Élysées and elsewhere to register and affix “an identifiable tag” to their car. The automobile was brand new at this time, remember. There were no such things as driving licenses or even classes on how to operate the things. Motorists were making up their own rules and getting away with, well, pretty much anything. With no way to prove that you owned any vehicle — bicycles included, actually — anybody could just come up, jump in and drive/ride it away and you couldn’t do anything about it. Laws specifically addressing this newfangled form of transportation had yet to be created nor penalties set for breaking said rules by the devotees of the high-speed (sometimes as much as 12 miles per hour) motorcar. Unlike horses, you couldn’t really put your brand on your metal ride, although horse-drawn carriages were required to have some sort of identification on them. Why not the horseless kind? Knowing that something had to be done, the Paris Police Ordinance of 14 August 1893 came up with just the thing.

In English, the regulation reads, “Each motor vehicle shall bear on a metal plate and in legible writing the name and address of its owner, also the distinctive number used in application for authorization. This plate shall be placed at the left-hand side of the vehicle — it shall never be hidden (French: elle ne doit jamais être cachée). Plates were created by the owners themselves and consisted of their initials and some set of numbers emblazoned in porcelain glazed metal.

Within three years, Germany had joined Paris and by 1898, the Netherlands was the first country to introduce nationally registered license plates — called “driving permits”  — that were sequentially numbered starting at the number 1. This changed in 1906, but it was the first government maintained system in the world.

vintage license plate laws come to life

Alice Huyler Ramsey, the 1st woman to drive across the U.S. in 1909, with one of the first plated cars

The United States followed suit in 1901 with New York requiring all owners to have plates on their cars. At that time, these were the owner’s initials on whatever material they chose and attached at the back of the automobile. Massachusetts became the first state to issue plates for the cars of their residents in 1903, stopping the practice of owners creating their own.

And the rest, as they say, is regulated and mandated license plate history.

What is AB 516 exactly?

AB 516 amends and adds various sections to the California Vehicle Code. It starts out by reminding lawmakers of the current rules regarding vehicle registration and plate requirements in the state of California. The bill then goes on to mention a variety of changes and additions that establish a system by which dealers and the Department of Motor Vehicles can coordinate getting a temporary license plate immediately printed and adhered to the motor vehicle before it leaves the lot. AB 516 clarifies that this mandate covers all vehicles (used included) that do not have an existing permanent plate on it.

One of the bill’s most notable additions to the code is section 4456.8, which reads: “If the vehicle does not display license plates previously issued by the department, the dealer or lessor-retailer shall attach the temporary license plates issued by the reporting system.” AB 516 also makes it possible for First Line Service Providers (FLSP) to assist with this issuance of temporary license plates and keeping the dealership in compliance. (For the full text of AB 516, click here.)

pre-AB 516 dealer placard

Currently, a newly purchased vehicle leaving the lot displays the dealer info in the area where its permanent plates will be installed. AB 516 means that instead of the dealer ads you’ve become used to seeing, you will instead be faced with something akin to this temporary tag:

the precursor of AB 516

A now discontinued California temporary tag from the 1970s

The year won’t read 1971, of course, but 2019 and beyond. Although, based on the concerns raised by the lack of easily visible temporary identifiers on vehicles, a car still sporting a dealer placard from 1971 and no permanent plates isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility. Steve Jobs was notorious for never having a license plate on his car, for example. He would turn in his lease right before he’d have to get a plate and he just kept turning cars over, never moving from temporary to permanent. Stopping every new looking car to check whether their temporary registration is expired is, admittedly, perhaps not the best use of time for law enforcement, so those who simply have figured out a way of getting around having to get new plates can do so without incident for, yes, years.

However, there is a whole other group who use this to their advantage in less “convenience” based ways. The lack of clear identification makes it basically impossible for law enforcement to trace and track that automobile should it be involved in then leave the scene of any infraction.

And that is why AB 516 was created.

The genesis of AB 516

It was a late summer Saturday night in 2013 when Michael Bonanomi, 35, grabbed a sandwich on the notorious stretch of Ventura Boulevard known as Coldwater Curve. He sat down on the curb to eat it near one of the most dangerous bends in Los Angeles. At 11:42, Michael finished his dinner and started walking across the street. No, he wasn’t in the crosswalk and none of the witnesses — of which there are many — dispute that. They also all agree that a white Mercedes-Benz came traveling eastbound and slammed into Michael. The 35-year-old ad man and musician went flying up, landing first on and severely denting the hood of the car, smashed the windshield, then was dragged almost a full 100 yards — the length of a football field — before he finally fell off.

The white Mercedes-Benz never stopped. The white Mercedes-Benz never slowed. The white Mercedes-Benz had no license plates. The white Mercedes-Benz and its driver have never been found.

Michael died at the scene.

All witnesses could tell the police to help in identifying the car was that it had black paper plates reading “Encino” in yellow. And Michael’s death led to his family offering a $50,000 reward for information on the hit-and-run driver and a movement.

California had already recognized that it was taking a beating with toll evasion at a cost of $15-19 million a year. But Michael’s tragedy shined a light on the more devastating reasons for pushing for AB 516 and was, in many estimations, the final straw. The hit-and-runs — there were two others that same night under similar circumstances — child abduction/Amber alerts, theft, and more to the equation were becoming easier to get away with due to the lack of clear identifiers. After all, if someone commits a crime in or using a vehicle that has no plates, how can police track it down unless witnesses or automated license plate readers (ALPR) are able to see the Report of Sale (ROS) posted in the windshield?

current RS location

Reintroducing a bill that would change the fact that California was the only state not requiring these special license plates on vehicles became a priority and AB 516 was born. A petition was created on change.org with Michael Bonanomi as its face. While it garnered just 750 signatures, the concerns over the lack of recognition on vehicles were now shared by the DMV and dealers all over the state, and Governor Brown signed it into law. And upon announcing AB 516’s ratification, Kevin Mullin gave credit to the happy-go-lucky musician’s legacy.

“I’d also like to thank the family and friends of Michael Bonanomi, who was fatally injured in the 2013 hit and run accident in southern California, for bringing this issue to my attention. The car that struck and killed Michael only had paper dealer plates and to this day, the driver has not been located. 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.”

What now for AB 516?

the home of AB 516 — the California capitol

As mentioned, January 1, 2019, is the date when AB 516 goes into effect. Dealers will need to ensure these sturdier, highly visible temporary license plates are on all vehicles that do not already have a permanent one. A heavy sigh of relief has gone up from all those whose concerns led to this change, but there is also a lot of worry about low-income individuals and the backlash they may incur. And it all comes down to the reason so many are happy about AB 516 — the ability for law enforcement to easily see the temporary plate on the back. Opponents’ concerns? If these are expired, what happens to the driver?

The hope with AB 516 and the continued assistance FLSPs offer dealerships is to make complying with this and all vehicle laws more seamless and efficient. Doing so is not just for their business partners, but consumers so that any lingering issues and hurdles to success will decrease, not multiply.

In preparation for the AB 516 rollout, Vitu, makers of DMVdesk, created a website that serves as a resource for dealerships to help their F&I departments and staff fully understand the requirements and implementation of this new program before that January 1, 2019 deadline hits. Visit catemptag.com to sign-up for free training seminars, read through FAQs, ask your own questions, and much more — all offered to inform and support everyone affected by this new law to help them get ahead of and feel completely prepared for the impending change. AB 516 is a new way of doing things in California, and it will be interesting to watch what it will mean in the long run for the DMV, dealers, consumers and the Golden State as a whole.

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Stickerless Car Registration: The Potential Effects of Pennsylvania’s Impending Bill

Kelly Kimball (2)Looking at a similar V2Gov system in Australia, Kelly Kimball questions how Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens will fare once stickerless car registration goes into effect.

By Kelly Kimball, Chairman & Co-Founder, Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC)

December 30, 2016 is the last day for Pennsylvania drivers to get actual registration stickers on their cars. By the next day, December 31, the state is eliminating the need for hard copies on automobiles. It’s smartly going fully digital with the introduction of Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology in its police vehicles and on the roads. This system electronically reads an automobile’s plate to determine whether it’s expired, among other things. By going stickerless, the state saves up to $1 million per year. The benefit to drivers is the ability to renew their registration online via computer or mobile device in addition to traditional mailing. They then have the option to immediately print out and sign a valid updated reg card if they so choose. The digital choice adds convenience and speeds up the process for vehicle owners, the DMV and law enforcement.

This is a great solution to a system that is too often stuck in a bottleneck of paperwork and bureaucracy. And there’s probably no bigger champion for moving to eGovernment today than I. This Penn State University-researched program doesn’t just take care about process gridlock. It makes money for the state with the savings in admin costs and the fees collected on expired plates. Cops will be able to catch violators sooner and immediately start charging penalties before drivers even notice. And this makes me think of a similar system being implemented Down Under.

The state of South Australia (SA) is now stickerless and it’s making that region a lot of money. It began back in 2011 and in that year alone, the number of unregistered and uninsured vehicles rose 50 percent from the previous year and the government made $12 million AUD in late fees. As of 2014-2015, those figures hit $19 million, all of which is good news for SA’s bottom line. It’s also saved up to $2 million per year in administrative costs since going digital. But, as I really thought about it, I started wondering where – or, better yet, who – those penalty fees are coming from.

Residents of SA are hit by as much as $1,000 in late charges – $404 for an expired car registration and $696 for being uninsured. Of course, if you’ve got the money, you probably won’t incur penalties or paying them is no big deal. But if you don’t, then that $1,000 (which translates to approximately $1,300 USD) hurts a lot.

Ever since reading about SA and learning more about how much money it’s taking in, I’ve been struggling with what this means for so many people already burdened by more financial obligations than they can handle.

It’s possible that the ALPR system will work so well that any Pennsylvanian driving with an expired car registration or lapsed insurance has a 100 percent chance of getting caught. The readers automatically send that information to state authorities and penalty fees are immediately calculated, bills and citations quickly sent out. Just as in South Australia, Pennsylvania is planning to catch expired registrations faster, imposing more late charges that compound over time. And that takes us to the “who” of that money. Because, as is usually the case, it’s an area’s poorest, most economically-strapped drivers who are most hard hit with things like expired registration and uninsured penalties.

When using technology to enforce compliance, governments need to take a look at why people aren’t abiding by the new laws and regulations. If every single offending driver actually intends to skirt the law then simply implementing new technology would take care of the problem. But noncompliance isn’t that simple. It never has been.

burden of car registration penalties

More often than not, there’s no malice, no hidden agenda and nothing duplicitous. It’s as simple as that annual lump sum fee’s being too much to bear when faced with having to choose between feeding the family this month or paying yearly car charges. There are times when the money just isn’t there, no matter the intent. And when that happens, piling on more financial woes creates that much more angst and confusion, even leading to more penalties and infractions. It’s the domino theory.

But there is a solution to all of this. It’s something SA is now doing and it’s simple.

In SA, drivers have the option to choose an automatic monthly debit from their bank or credit cards to cover their car registration and/or license renewal fees. The ability to amortize payments over time sets drivers up for success in complying with the state’s regulations. It also alleviates the stress that comes from worrying about losing reliable and, often, the only form of transportation to work in order to make money to survive.

Everyone knows that failure to pay your car registration on time quickly turns into a nightmare of escalating late charges. With new license recognition, there’s the added potential for being stopped by authorities and the penalties that can result from traffic tickets and perhaps even having your car impounded. Who can afford towing and storage costs when they can’t even make enough to cover the registration fees in the first place?

Just as Pennsylvania is following SA’s stickerless example, to a certain extent, it can also easily set up a monthly payment option for its drivers. It gives everyone a chance to successfully handle his or her renewals. Sure, it’ll require certain administrative responsibilities that are irritating to state officials and, yes, it may mean millions instead of tens of millions being funnelled into the coffers. However, as shown by SA’s system of fee collection, dollars are still being saved and earned. Ultimately, the monthly amounts paid will bring in substantial monies compared to lump sum payments that, traditionally, are a cost savings for the payor. Compensation stretched out over time always includes more incremental fees thrown in–minimal, for sure, and Pennsylvania’s fees are far lower than that of SA. But those dollars do add up and they will benefit both the state and citizens in the long run. Trust me.

I know V2Gov technologies are important and can streamline processes for states, businesses and drivers. Our entire company is based on the belief that these innovations are making a brighter future possible in the automotive world. But we’ve also built our business on doing what’s fair, what’s right for everyone, not just that fabled 1 percent. PennDOT’s V2Gov car registration process must work for every economic level. It’s my hope that PennDOT and the state’s legislators take a deeper look at how to best serve all Pennsylvania drivers through improved technology. If they stay mindful of the true cost, then a digital disruption isn’t so hard on those already living the harsh paycheck-to-paycheck reality.

Kelly Kimball

Kelly Kimball is chairman and co-founder of California-based Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC). More than just a technology entrepreneur, Kimball is a political strategist, a sought-after lecturer and a visionary startup pioneer. In 1991, Kimball founded SDR Technologies to create the country’s first electronic filing systems for political reporting. Widely recognized as a pioneer of eGovernment, Kimball has been a frequent guest on CNN, CNN Money, Fox News and ABC’s World News Tonight. As chairman of MVSC, Kimball forges strong relationships between government and business enterprises so consumers can transform paper trails into fair, fast and easy-to-use digital transactions.





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Government Surveillance Goes On the Road

In a climactic moment from the film, SPEED, Keanu Reeves makes a stunning discovery as to how Dennis Hopper’s bad guy knows their every move. He’s installed a video camera on the “don’t go below 50” bus. That moment was terrifying, invasive and prescient of a growing focus of today’s government surveillance: your vehicle.

There are so many things we do in our cars that we take for granted. We put on makeup, sing our hearts out, argue, cry and more. We consider the automobile our sanctuary. Even though it’s surrounded by windows, we believe we’re alone, even invisible.

We are neither.

Honorable, historical mention

Government surveillance is nothing new. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights directly mentions “search and seizure.”

A court case in 1928, however, clearly established what we now think of as Federally sanctioned reconnaissance and observation. It involved Washington State resident, Roy Olmstead, who was arrested and prosecuted in 1927 for smuggling liquor during prohibition. He was caught via unwarranted wiretapping. Roy fought it, claiming his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated.

The Supreme Court (headed by Justice William H. Taft, no less) ruled otherwise (Olmstead vs. the United States).

Even though the Olmstead decision was overturned in 1967, government surveillance has been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years, it has become more sophisticated and specific.

This form of homeland security owes its innovation to the growth of eGovernment and Vehicle-to-Government (V2Gov) technology. The tools available have proved a huge benefit to the safety of our country and local communities.

From drones that can pinpoint an individual in their own backyard to surreptitiously infiltrating emails and beyond, it was only a matter of time before our hideaway on wheels was fair game. This begs the question, however, of whether compiling information on people in their cars crosses the line into privacy invasion.

To protect and serve (without you knowing it)

No one would argue that government surveillance is important for national security. Our country has survived several attacks in the last generation alone and “forewarned is forearmed.” Yet this form of “protect and serve” no longer just focuses on known criminals as “persons of interest.” The desire to get in front of a threat has expanded this web of scrutiny to include, well, everyone.

The Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) and you

Meet the automated license plate reader (ALPR), a valued tool of law enforcement. It is outfitted with vehicle-to-government technology and can photograph thousands of plates per minute.

This form of government surveillance was first put into use by the DEA in 2008. Its goal was (and still is) to catch drug dealers and all around baddies. It can read both the front and back license plates, takes views of the overall vehicle and snap photos of the car’s inhabitants in real time.

The ability to capture who is inside a vehicle takes the capabilities of the fabled “red light camera” to the next level. The information can then be placed in a database to be read and studied as needed.

ALPRs are employed by more than 70% of law enforcement agencies, nationwide. The International Association of Chiefs of Police have a dedicated area on their website that extolls its benefits and uses, which are many.

Conversely, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has devoted countless pages on the implications of ALPR and government surveillance in general. Several states have also put certain restrictions on its use.

Concerns over invasion of privacy top the list, of course, but such things as inaccurate information, unrestricted access and others have also come to light. Among these is how that intelligence is used and by whom.

Information in the wrong hands

There is nothing new, of course, with concerns about cyber security and hackers within the eGovernment space. Personal information falling into the wrong hands is probably the biggest pain point for electronic communication.

But, what if some of those wrong hands belong to law enforcement officials?

While by no means representative of peace officers in general, there have been instances where information taken off of these cameras has been used to blackmail, extort, racially and economically profile and stalk private citizens.

The scramble to clean up the system has already begun, but it raises questions about how to regulate and police electronic connections successfully. This is especially chilling when those in charge of the oversight need oversight themselves.

The prophetic power of SPEED

Public transportation is also a player in the world of government surveillance. Audio has been added to many cameras installed in several buses around the country. No longer just soundless video, as used by the crude yet effective spy device in SPEED, these new devices are A/V masters of capturing both conversations and images.

The up-side of listening in on riders’ personal discussions is not as clear as that of the ALPR put into effect for the DEA. It’s got several lawmakers, administrators and passengers uncomfortable–think the overturned ruling on unwarranted wiretapping. Regardless, it is now common on many buses although it is unknown just how many and in which states.

The good, the bad, the “you decide” of government surveillance

As we move into the future of connected cars and truly embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) for our vehicles, we’re introducing more than cool, self-driving innovation. We’re not only enabling automobiles to talk to one another (V2V) and to public agencies (V2Gov), but creating a network of communication that makes what we once thought of as private available to just about anyone.

The role eGovernment plays in law enforcement has definitely shaped a safer, more protected world. It’s also opening up a conversation about what, exactly, the words “government surveillance” mean for everyday you.

Did you ever dream that, one day, your car would be no more private than an airport security checkpoint?

Is that a good thing?

Time will tell.

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