Expired Plates Inspire Motorist to Count the Scofflaws


Dear Street Smart:

I live in Fullerton and work in Beverly Hills, a commute that takes approximately 2 1/2 hours daily and involves three freeways.

Recently, I have noticed more and more expired license plates. So many, in fact, that this week I decided to make a game of it with an informal survey. For safety purposes, I used a hand-held tape recorder that did not require taking my eyes off the road and counted only cars in my or adjacent lanes.

The results: On one round trip totaling 64 miles, I logged 36 expired license plates!


I cannot come up with any extrapolative formula but, based on this one accounting, there must be tens of thousands of illegal automobiles out there, depriving the state of millions in revenue. Is any special effort being expended to recoup these lost revenues? At least three of these automobiles with expired plates were directly in front of CHP vehicles, which made no effort to stop them.

E. Gerald Sellers


Unregistered automobiles are a big problem for California, according to Evan Nossoff, a spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles. While the DMV has no specific numbers, the problem is believed to be more widespread here than in other states because of California’s relatively high vehicle registration fees and stringent emissions requirements, he said.


And it doesn’t always pay to go after the shirkers, Nossoff said.

“It sometimes costs more to chase the deadheads than we get when we catch one,” he said. “The problem is that when we don’t get a renewal, we don’t know the reason. The person could have moved out of state or retired the vehicles.”

For violators who do get caught, he said, the consequences can be expensive. In addition to the original registration fee, they must pay a 60% penalty in the first year plus an 8O% penalty for each year thereafter. Additionally, courts can set special fines, and the state can impound unregistered vehicles until all fees and penalties are paid.

“In the long run, we catch up with them and get our pound of flesh,” Nossoff said.

The California Highway Patrol has a special interest in citing drivers whose registrations have expired, according to a spokesman, because most of its budget comes from those fees.

“We feel very strongly about vehicle registration,” CHP spokesman Steve Kohler said. “I can’t explain why a given officer didn’t stop someone, but I will tell you that when an officer is aware of an expired registration we do our best to do something about it.”

While CHP officers routinely give drivers a short grace period before enforcing registration requirements, he said, anyone whose registration is more than about three months overdue is prone to be cited.

“That driver is cheating everyone else who is legitimately paying their registration fees,” Kohler said. “We don’t think that’s right.”



Dear Street Smart:

I commute regularly on Interstate 5 between San Clemente and Lake Forest. Recently, one of the few pleasures of driving the Orange County freeways was taken away. I refer to the panoramic view of boats sailing in and around Dana Point Harbor that southbound drivers used to see just south of San Juan Capistrano. This peaceful sight, the first view of the Pacific Ocean from a Southern California freeway, has now been obliterated by a gray concrete wall.

I am aware that the freeway is being widened here and that the wall provides a safety barrier for cars exiting onto Pacific Coast Highway. But why can’t these improvements be done without destroying such a scenic and public view? Do highway engineers look only at lines on a map, without any regard for what is present on either side? To me this loss is unnecessary and the result of poor planning and design. That picture-postcard view lured more tourists and visitors to Dana Point than any billboard or real estate brochure could ever do, and now you don’t even know the water is there! Is there any way this damage can be undone?

Patricia Holloway

San Clemente

Apparently not, according to a Caltrans spokeswoman.

While it would be nice to retain the panoramic view of Dana Point Harbor, Rose Orem said, safety is paramount, and for Caltrans, low maintenance outweighs beautiful views.


Concrete guardrails replaced metal beam guardrails there because of their strength in withstanding the impact of errant cars. This reduces both the risk to Caltrans crews working on the project and the potential for delays caused by lane closures to repair guardrails, she said.

The concrete guardrails, Orem says, also require considerably less maintenance than the metal ones.


Street Smart appears Mondays in The Times Orange County Edition. Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about traffic, commuting and what makes it difficult to get around in Orange County. Include simple sketches if helpful. Letters may be published in upcoming columns. Please write to David Haldane, c/o Street Smart, The Times Orange County Edition, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or e-mail him at Include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers. Letters may be edited, and no anonymous letters will be accepted.