SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown Monday will end California's long-standing policy that made it the only state in the nation to allow people to legally drive on the streets without a license plate number for 90 days.
A KTVU 2 Investigates series in 2013 exposed a range of abuses resulting from the old “no-plate” policy, that ranged from uncollected tolls to criminal cases where suspects were able to escape in cars with no license plate.
The new law will require all new and used car buyers to have a temporary license plate on the vehicle before they roll off the dealer lot and onto the road.
The original bill AB 516 was shepherded through the legislature by its main sponsor Bay Area Assemblyman and Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) after he attempted a similar effort in 2014 that met with opposition from car dealers and the DMV.
Mullin said he became aware of the full magnitude of the problem after the KTVU 2 Investigates series in 2013.
The 2 Investigates series showed how drivers were cheating at toll plazas by driving through with no license plates or Fastrak units, so there was no way to make the drivers pay. Using data obtained from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the reports showed that uncollected tolls were resulting in more than ten million dollars in lost annual revenue for the state.
The old law also posed a public safety hazard according to police frustrated by cases where criminals were able to commit crimes and then get away from law enforcement officers with no license plate to track.
The new law is expected to take effect January 1, 2019.
Anyone who buys a car from a new or used dealer in California would get their vehicle with a temporary paper license plate already put in place and linked to that specific vehicle. Each year, about 2 million new vehicles are purchased in California.
The vehicle owner will be required to keep that temporary license plate in place up to ninety days or until they receive their permanent steel plates from the DMV.
Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission worked with Assemblyman Mullin's office on the proposal and say this will be a big win for all Californians.
"I think at a certain point people understood this wasn't government agencies trying to collect money. This was government agencies identifying a serious public safety issue and also doing our jobs as good stewards for fairness for everybody. It's not acceptable if some people are going across free on the bridges while other people have to pay. We want a level playing field where everyone plays by the same rules," said Randy Rentschler, an MTC spokesman.
The bill did face some opposition from some consumer advocates who worried about an adverse impact, particularly on lower income drivers.
The MTC presented a mock-up showing how the new temporary license plate might appear. It will be a paper tag that can still have a dealer advertisement on the top. The temporary paper plate, however, would have a large license number and an expiration date that would be as easy to read as a permanent plate, making it easy for law enforcement officers or automatic toll cameras.