A Missing Front License Plate Is Not an Arresting Sight

Dear Street Smart:

My car was in an accident at the end of December. I was rear-ended and the front of the car was quite demolished when I was shoved into a huge pole.

My car is almost ready to be returned. My back license plate is OK, but the front one is creased, torn and looks too awful to put back on my nice car. I happen to like my license number, "2GGE. . . ," which I laughingly call "two eggs over easy," and I don't want to get another plate. Will I be penalized if I only have a license plate on the back?

My family disagrees with me, but I truly don't want to change my plate. Am I liable for a ticket if I only have a plate in the rear of my car?

Dorothy Jung

Costa Mesa

Dear Street Smart:

Why are there so many cars driving around in Orange County without a front California license plate? They have valid back plates, but the front plate is missing. Is this legal?

This seems to be particularly true of the adolescent- or muscle-type vehicles with the race-car look. Is the law simply not being enforced, or can we really leave our front plates off here in Orange County?

William Luedeking

Laguna Hills

Yes, there are lots of cars zipping around Orange County and other spots in the state without front plates. And, yes, it is against the law to operate a car that doesn't have license plates affixed to both the front and rear.

Nonetheless, a missing front plate rarely prompts a law officer to pull a U-turn and hit the flashing reds.

Officer Ken Daily of the California Highway Patrol's South Orange County division said CHP officers don't spend much time looking for people with missing license plates.

"It's just not something we focus a lot of attention on," Daily said, noting that officers spend most of their time snaring motorists for far more grievous violations like speeding and drunk driving.

"Generally, we like a stop to be for a little more than no front plate."

Patrolmen typically issue tickets for a missing plate only when they've corralled a motorist for some other violation, Daily said. Even then, the citation is merely a fix-it ticket requiring the driver to head into the local Department of Motor Vehicles office to replace the missing plate.

Daily agrees that the most frequent scofflaws of the license plate law are youthful drivers of high-performance sports cars who seem to feel that the plates ruin the cosmetic appeal of their streamlined machines.

But some motorists simply don't realize they've got two plates when a new set arrives in the mail, he said. These days, the plates are so thin and sandwiched so tightly together that people occasionally think they've been issued only a single plate for the rear bumper, Daily said.

As for the travails of Dorothy Jung and her beloved but battered license plate, the prospect of saving good ol' "two eggs over easy" looks bleak.

Bill Gengler, a DMV spokesman in Sacramento, said people can reorder copies of personalized "vanity" license plates, but general-issue "sequential" plates, by policy, cannot be duplicated once they are lost or destroyed.

About 7 million sequential plates are stamped out in huge batches by the state each year. With that sort of demand, it proves far less costly and time consuming for the DMV to issue a whole new license number and plate to a motorist rather than go through the chore of reproducing a lost or destroyed plate.

Some motorists have inquired about getting sequential plates reissued by paying extra cash and ordering the same license number as a vanity plate, Gengler said. But that tactic is also forbidden, primarily because it could put the DMV computers into a tail spin.

"She's out of luck," Gengler said. "But maybe she might get an even better license number with her new plates."

Ordering a new set is simple. Any local DMV office can issue plates on the spot for an $8 charge. People with vanity plates are given a temporary set while the others are being stamped out and mailed.

Dear Street Smart:

I'm happy about the diamond lanes, but find one thing about driving in them that is very upsetting.

Although my husband and I were traveling at a respectable speed in the lane that runs to Costa Mesa from Seal Beach, cars kept coming up behind us and honking, telling us that we were not going fast enough. Since we were going faster than the posted limit already, we resented this rudeness to a great degree.

Was it the intention of the Highway Patrol to reserve that lane for cars traveling 75 to 90 m.p.h. or drivers with one or more passengers in their cars? We deeply resent that some drivers treat this lane as if it were a raceway. Can't something be done about that?

Anona Gray

Los Alamitos

Tailgating is a common problem in car-pool lanes. There is something about a special reserved lane sealed off by a yellow line that trips a switch in lots of motorists. Many drivers figure they have carte blanche to push the pedal to the metal: "Look, out world! Here I come! And how dare you go the speed limit!"

Lt. Dwight McKenna of the Highway Patrol's Santa Ana office said patrolmen are always on the lookout for tailgaters in the car-pool lane. Tailgating is considered one of the "big four" offenses, along with speeding, drunk driving and unsafe lane changes, he said.

McKenna said officers invariably go with gusto after a tailgater zooming along only a car length behind another vehicle. Some officers will snag an offender if he's within two or three car lengths at speeds of more than 55 m.p.h., he said.

Although the practice is extremely unsafe, people in the fast-lane life style of Southern California seem to relish putting their reaction time to the test. Fender bender accidents or worse are often the result.

The long-held rule of thumb is to maintain a car length for every 10 m.p.h. Another good tip is to allow two seconds between you and the car ahead. To check, pick a reference point, like a sign. Watch the car ahead as it passes and count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two. If you pass the same spot before you finish counting, you're too close.

Of course, as Johnny Carson has joked, you can move six car lengths back and five cars will pull in front of you.

Moreover, it doesn't do much good when some hotshot in a one-ton pickup comes roaring up about 18 inches off your rear bumper.

In those cases, the best thing to do is get out of the guy's way and hope the long arm of the law will eventually snag him, said Sam Haynes, a Highway Patrol spokesman in Sacramento.

There is, however, a problem with employing that tactic in the car-pool lane--the yellow line prevents a motorist from immediately sliding into the adjacent lane. Haynes recommends staying calm and waiting for the broken white lines so you can merge right. During rush hour, this may mean slowing way down and popping into the gridlock of cars, but better that than letting some one-ton turkey put your trunk in the back seat.

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