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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Late Registration Renewal Zone: Be Compliant, Be Very Compliant

license plate collection

Renewing my car registration stresses me out. Every year, I get ready to do the right thing at the right time and, invariably, I’m caught off-guard. I’m always worried the date’ll pass me by and I’ll be stuck in the late registration renewal zone. I think of the late registration renewal zone as this dark, lonely place in the back of the DMV where huge penalties and revving tow trucks waiting to impound my car loom in the shadows as I and other late registration renewal victims cower in a miles long line leading to a counter where the sloth from Zootopia is the only clerk accepting payment. Just so you know, all of this DMV fear is my total paranoia with no basis in reality at all. I’m in touch with that, thank you very much, but I know I’m not alone in stressing this. And I’ve got to believe there’s a way never to be stuck in the late registration renewal zone ever again.

A purposeful — if painful — necessity

True, everyone knows going into buying or leasing a vehicle that part of your commitment to it is making sure you pay your renewal fee on time, thereby not getting stuck with the penalties that go along with being late. And although renewing vehicle registration may be just about one of the lowest priorities in our lives — replacing unused spices with fresh ones in your spice rack every six months rather than the between one year to never you normally do may very well be the only thing lower — it is still on you to do it and do it on time. And, sure, a car registration renewal notice gets mailed to you — through the actual post — to remind you.

BUT this is a once-a-year — sometimes every other year, if you live somewhere like Oregon or Missouri — sort of deal, so it’s not like it’s on your mind every month or something. And sometimes those renewal notices get lost in the mail, amidst other letters, or misplaced, ya know? And even though you probably drive your car daily or at the very least walk around it at some point during that day, you’re not looking at your license plate all the time, are you? No, you’re not. So, you could be forgiven for not remembering to renew your car registration on time, right?


the benefit to infrastructure due to registration renewal fees

As irritating as it is to be stuck with penalties and potential embarrassment by being pulled over in the middle of the street thanks to those expired tags on your license plate, that registration fee also supports infrastructure and other public works projects in our community. And that is why, friends and neighbors, there is no grace period for renewing your automobile and paying your fee late in most areas, and why some places are more strict than others on car registration renewal enforcement. In 2015, within California alone, 23 percent of registered drivers were late. That’s nearly ¼ of all registered cars and when you take into consideration that at least 95 percent of vehicles on Golden State highways are reg renewals, not first timers, that’s an astounding amount of lost state revenue.

The penalties for renewing your vehicle registration late and how some states and countries collect them have caused controversy in the past, however. When Illinois decided not to send out renewal notices to its citizens in 2015 to save the state money, it resulted in over $3.5 million of revenue collected in late fees. It also led to the Illinois house passing a bill prohibiting the Secretary of State from charging late registration fees in the future from those people who missed the due date because they never got a renewal notice. But vehicle registration is such a huge deal to states that some have actually figured out ways to use it to enforce other financial deficits.

Pennsylvania, which went stickerless at the beginning of 2017, is using vehicle registration to its advantage. Over $57 million in unpaid tolls have been building over the last three years, predominantly in three counties including Philadelphia. The state decided to go after 10,611 repeat offenders by suspending their vehicle registration. Pay the unpaid toll fees or lose use of your car.

I understand that vehicle registration fees support the growth and financial success of various communities, but the tales of woe over late registration renewal show that the real cost to residents is much more than a well-paved road.

Five hundred dollars later

las vegas strip

It started as a spur of the moment, end-of-Friday, first-time-ever in Vegas trip with coworkers. “I was driving my car and my registration was expired. But it just wasn’t something I was taking too serious, because it wasn’t that late. Maybe a month or so,” Will says.

Will and his friends were cruising along The Strip when he noticed a policeman and his partner in their vehicle. Will made eye contact with the driver and kept moving… then saw the red and blue lights behind him, and was pulled over in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard. What was supposed to be a fun introduction to Sin City turned into an out of control traffic stop that kept getting worse.

“My grandpa who smoked cigars gave me this keychain and basically it was a bullet that’s hollowed out and you can use it to cut the end of cigars. They saw that and took that as some probable cause to search my car.”

The search revealed nothing, but led to their taking issue with one of Will’s passengers and suddenly, “They have their guns drawn on us, hands on the car and I kept thinking, ‘What did I do?’ So that was very intense and at the end of it, yeah, I got a ticket for my registration.”

A $500 ticket, to be exact. “And that was over 20 years ago. So, yeah, after that I pretty much don’t mess around with it.”

But it wasn’t the ticket that hurt the most in that situation. The reasons the vehicle registration was late were a couple of factors. 1) Renewing it wasn’t a priority. As Will says, “It was just one of those things I wasn’t taking very seriously at the time. I wasn’t paying attention.”

The second reason was that he was driving an older vehicle and couldn’t get it to pass the smog test. Will had countless repairs he needed to make on the car and he didn’t have the money for that or the registration fee. “I kept taking it in for the smog and it kept failing and then I’d have more work done and then I’d take it back and this whole cycle began, so,” he pauses, “And then I got that ticket in Vegas and it was just bad.” It got to the point that Will was at risk of losing his automobile altogether.

When life takes precedence

policeman making a traffic stop

Kathryn had just moved into a new home and was still unpacking, going through papers, and getting her house in order. One day, she was driving with her young son and was pulled over, completely unaware that the tags on her license plate were four months late.

“I didn’t get the paperwork and didn’t realize, and I got pulled over with my little kid in the back and, ‘Whoop! Whoop!’ the whole bit. And got a big ticket. It was embarrassing to have to pay hundreds of dollars,” Kathryn remembers.

Part of the distress came from Kathryn’s not remembering her vehicle registration renewal fees were due let alone late. The move and adjusting to her new home with her young family were foremost on her mind, not the registration nor the fact she hadn’t gotten the renewal notice.

“Yeah, it was completely off my radar, because I always rely on the paperwork coming to trigger that.”

While that experience made her more vigilant, Kathryn has an additional and common consideration — financial priorities. After a recent health scare, she had to decide whether to tackle the bills that keep her family going or pay her registration renewal fee on time. Family won.

“My bills had backed up, so it was lower on the priority list,” Kathryn admits.

But Kathryn has three cars and she still counts on that paper registration renewal notice, which has either not shown up or come late more than once. With multiple vehicles, she can’t afford to accrue penalties. She’s acutely aware of how “lost paperwork” hurts her.

“I’ve got three cars, three opportunities to have paperwork lost, three opportunities a year for a $500 ticket.”

Bureaucratic unfairness

suburban street with cars lining both sides

“You have learned by being burned,” is a phrase Bill recalls a friend once shared with him as he thinks back to a recent issue with late registration renewal.

As a husband and dad of driving age kids, Bill is responsible for up to five vehicle registrations at any given time. Juggling the renewal process is always a challenge, but the notices would routinely show up in the mail and, “As soon as I would get them, within a matter of weeks, I would pay them. The system had worked so well for so many years, I wasn’t very proactive about trying to know or keep in mind when the registration was due and not wait for the letter to come in the mail.”

That comfort led to Bill not realizing he hadn’t received the renewal notice until he was pulled over for late registration. What struck him the most when he paid was “the renewal fee that I was charged. I felt it was exorbitant relative to the amount of time that had passed.”

On a $70 registration renewal, Bill ended up having to pay $248, because it was two months late. “That experience made me very angry, because the fee charged was highly disproportionate to the offense.”

The whole situation got Bill thinking — the system he had gotten used to didn’t even really make sense. Sending a paper renewal notice during the digital age and one reminder at that?

“You get the registration renewal in the mail and if you don’t send it in to the DMV or do it online, then they just let the clock run and eventually somehow, some way, you get hit with a huge fine. I think it’s not fair.”

None of these stories are uncommon. Virtually every car owner has been here. If that’s not you, good on ya. But whether it was one day or two years, at some point in your auto owning or leasing life, chances are you ended up renewing your vehicle registration late and incurring fees. It doesn’t matter why, but that first time, you hope, is the last time.

But what if it’s not? And what if it could be changed so it never happens again? Sweet relief.

Burdened by late registration renewal

the stress of too many billsAll over the world, you need to register your car to drive it. The rules change depending on where you are and renewing that registration ranges from not having to do it at all, to doing so only if you’ve moved, your vehicle was stolen or your license plate damaged, to needing to do it every year or so. But when it is required, a late registration renewal will get you penalized.

Here in California, I faced a rather unique situation. I wasn’t late, I was too early. I got my notice to renew, went onto the DMV website to pay and got an alert that said it was too soon. Huh? Guys, I’m trying to do the right thing here. Why not just let me pay the registration fee and save us all the grief of a potential late renewal? By the time I remembered I had to renew, I was close enough to the expiration that I had to rush to get it in on time. If I’d been able to do it when I wanted, none of that stress would’ve come up. I know it may seem “first world problem” sounding, but if being ready to pay sooner when you have the money rather than later when you may not is met with a roadblock, it’s not so “poor little rich girl.” Because, honestly? I had the money at the time. I didn’t know as the weeks went by and more bills came in that I’d have it then.

When you think of anyone who finds themselves unable to afford — not forgetting to pay but UNABLE TO PAY — that lump sum at the end of the year, regardless of why, they’re sweating it. They’re driving with expired tags on their license plate that could lead to getting their cars impounded if they’re pulled over — the dreaded late registration renewal zone. If that happens, they’ll have to finagle another way to get to work or school or wherever it is they need to go. And when you rely on your car and suddenly find yourself having to turn to a public transportation system that is unreliable in your area or doesn’t travel at the times you need to get you where you have to be on time, or find yourself having to spend money you don’t have on ride-hailing you can’t afford, you’re stuck.

Not so first world sounding, is it? Not when the choice you’ve got to make is between paying your reg renewal fee and taking care of your family. It made me think and that thinking got me wondering and that wondering got me, well, looking at options.

Making it easier for everybody

potential for automatic payment to avoid late registration renewal

First off, paper notices just don’t seem to be working. Why not send out email or text reminders similar to just about any utility service these days? I get bill reminders from my mobile phone, gas and electric company via email and text all the time. They’ve even made it so I can pay from those messages right away. Easy.

When I heard about how they handle paying registration renewal fees in both South Australia (SA) and the UK, I thought, “Hey, we could do that in the U.S.” They allow you to set up automatic payments through your bank or credit/debit cards. Or what about adding your vehicle registration renewal fee to your monthly car payment? Totally optional, of course.

Honesty, I have no idea what the answer is, but I know there has to be something, ANYTHING, that can be done so that none of us find ourselves stuck in the late registration renewal zone. I shudder at the thought and am happy to find whatever makes it so I don’t have to deal with suddenly realizing I’m late on my renewal and am now stuck with not only the registration fee, but late charges plus whatever ticket I may have gotten PLUS… you get my drift. If it makes renewing my registration easy, friendly and NOT LATE, I’m all about it.

Stress relief, please

carefree life

I understand, completely, about the need to pay taxes/fees to support infrastructure and other necessary services in our communities. Truly, I do. I get that it helps the DMV or whatever other transport department. BUT… and I make this a REALLY BIG but… making it easier for people to support the process by giving them better, more successful ways to feed the machines of progress seem like they would bring even more money into the coffers of every local, state, federal and international government office. People are more likely to comply with a process that supports their ability to do so rather than something that feels like it’s a setup for failure.

Ever since I thought about writing this, I’ve found myself looking at the license plate tags of the cars in front of me. I notice a theme — there is none. I’ve been behind just as many name any luxury automobile with late stickers as I have name any economy vehicle. I always wonder how freaked out that driver must be about being pulled over. I even saw a car that was two years past due and all I could think the entire time was, “Whoa, they must be panic driving all the time.”

As I said, all of this could be my paranoia projected on everybody else, but every person I’ve spoken to in researching this has a kind of visceral response. They’re either irritated by how inconvenient and painful it is to do every year, impart a tale (or more) of woe about being at the receiving end of a late registration renewal, or overtaken by a doe in the headlights look as they suddenly realize they haven’t done it yet. It makes me believe this is something that needs to be fixed, because no one should be made to choose between feeding their family or being able to hold onto their transportation so they can get to work, school, wherever, and registering their vehicle. That it comes to that sometimes is a stress that anyone who owns or leases a car should never have to bear.


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