Temp Tags on Toll Roads: The Answer to Enforcement?

temp tags captured on toll roadAs of January 1, 2019, California implemented temporary or temp tags on all vehicles — one of the last states to do so. We thought we’d take a look at how things like tolls have been collected on automobiles that didn’t have them in the past and how that changes with AB 516. We learned something surprising.

You’ve just bought your vehicle and are motoring down the road. You don’t have your permanent plates yet, but you do have a nifty Temporary Identification affixed to your front window. And in some countries and states, you even have a temporary license plate or temp tag in your holder. But let’s say you’re in a place that hasn’t transitioned to that yet. More than likely, you’ve got the advertisement for the dealership that sold you whatever motorized something you’re operating. Fine. So, there’s this preprinted paper card reading SO-AND-SO INSERT MOTOR COMPANY HERE OF WHEREVER in the holder and you come to an electronic toll road. You don’t have a transponder, because, well, you just don’t or it’s one of those Open Road, automatic license plate reader (ALPR) managed types. Cool. What do you do? Well, you just keep driving and don’t worry about it, because how can they find you to charge you if the only thing identifying who owns what you’re driving is a tiny RS the ALPR can’t even see? You got away scot-free, no one seems to be hurt by it, so what’s the big deal, right?

Well… It’s not that simple.

A little-known fact about temporary tags and tolls

FasTrak and temp tagsPer the Golden Gate Bridge website, “Motorists in vehicles without a license plate are responsible for paying their toll.” Great. But how can you do that? Again per the Golden Gate Bridge site, you have four choices. You can open a FasTrak account — FasTrak is the electronic toll collection system (ETC) in California — and get a transponder; make a one-time payment using a credit card; make a one-time payment in person at one of the FasTrak Cash Payment Centers — for up to 10 crossings at a time — or make a one-time payment in person at the Bay Area FasTrak office on Beale Street. Sounds reasonable, except… what if you don’t do any of that? Again, how do you get charged if you aren’t displaying a temporary permit that’s big enough for the technology to read?

No matter how much the Golden Gate Bridge or any other site in California may scare you into believing it, you don’t. After all, you have no readable tags. What you do have, however, is this nice, bright, very easy to see and read advertising placard from SO-AND-SO INSERT MOTOR COMPANY HERE OF WHEREVER. That ALPR and ETC camera can sure see that so they can sure find them. All the authorities have to do is track them down, send them the bill and charge them instead of you. Doesn’t make for a very friendly dealer-customer relationship if that happens too often.

Oh, and as expected, every now and then mistakes happen. Not ever putting your registration plates on your car? That’s been a huge issue. Although it’s not always intentional — many of us forget to put our permanents on our cars or simply overlook it — the practice has become a tool used for many trying to avoid notice and turned into something that’s made it possible to get away with far more serious things than simply not paying the fee to drive on a road, across a bridge or along a stretch of highway.

California is one of the rare states in the U.S. that did not require these “for a limited time only” solutions. This led to monies lost due to toll evasion, lives put at risk from untraceable hit-and-run incidents, and other crimes. If you can’t identify a car that has gone through a toll booth, collided with another car or person, or fled a crime scene because they have nothing on their front or back bumper other than a dealer ad, how can you catch them? Who becomes responsible? In the case of accidents or other incidents, there is no way to track down that motor vehicle simply by the advertisement on its bumper. However, to recoup costs for evading a toll is very different. The whole idea of charging the auto seller if the car or whatever doesn’t have some sort of highly visible I.D. is to make sure that fee gets paid.

But that changed on January 1 of 2019.

The purpose (and hope) of CA DMV temp tags

All over the world, there are different types of interim identifiers used on automobiles for a variety of reasons. The United States relies predominantly on durable paper or plastic temp tags that are replaced with permanent vehicle registration plates within 30 to 90 days. These placeholders are boldly printed with registration information and are easily identifiable on ALPR technology.

temp tags example

Image By Adp1997 from Wikimedia Commons

Temp tags serve as an identifier that restricts and hopes to eradicate the various law enforcement issues that have risen without them. These have an actual, albeit limited time identification number that holds all of your registration information for that month to the month-and-a-half waiting period. In addition to the various ALPR systems set up throughout the state, ETC devices can scan them just as well.

The new law requires every motor vehicle that leaves a dealer lot to have a durable paper temporary license mounted on the front and back of the car, truck, motorcycle, SUV — if you can drive it, it’s got it. And California dealerships are prepared for it.

While none of this may be great news for toll evaders or criminals, the hope is that bringing temp tags back to the Golden State — where they were once the rule in the 1970s — will save lives and boost the economy. AB 516 means unmarked cars are now a thing of the past and that not only will the West Coast be able to recoup lost revenue, but the anonymous hit-and-runs that devastate so many will drastically decrease, making the measure a literal life-saver for lawmakers.


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