Obscuring one’s address on vehicle registration is of dubious legality

The in basket: A few weeks ago TV news was once again reporting a burglary that was facilitated by the thieves using a vehicle registration  and garage door opener taken in a car prowl and using the car owner’s address to go where it was likely no one was home at that moment.

Earlier in the year, a similar report suggested not leaving your registration in the car’s glove box when parked in public, as a precaution, though to my mind that raised the likelihood of searching for one’s registration if pulled over and finding you hadn’t returned it to the car.

This time, TV suggested blacking out the address on the registration. I wondered if that’s even legal.

The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing says,  “When we issue a vehicle registration, it is required by law to have … the registered owner’s name and address (RCW 46.16A.040). This law also requires the registered owner to sign the registration to certify the information is true.

“Registered owners are required to have the registration within the vehicle when it is operated and present the registration to law enforcement upon demand.

“The law doesn’t specifically address removing information from the registration certificate after it is issued and signed, but we believe it would not be legal to remove the address from the certificate.

“I did talk to one of our staff who used to be with the State Patrol,” Brad said, “and he said having the address blacked out would raise questions in the mind of a typical law enforcement officer, but if everything else checked out and the owner indicated it was done as a security measure, it would likely not be a problem. However, the registered owner doing this would be doing so at their own risk.”

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said officers have a work-around that would allow processing a traffic stop if the registration is altered.

“Most law enforcement agencies now have mobile computer terminals in their patrol vehicles.  Access for license / VIN checks and driver license or ID checks are usually available through the agency’s computer system and its connection with (various) data record systems.

“All agencies (whom I know) also are connected to some form of radio dispatch system.  A patrol officer can always ‘run’ a license plate through D.O.L., over the radio – via dispatch,  and get a return on the vehicle’s registered owner,  address, make, model, year, VIN, expiration date, date of issue, etc., etc. in this manner.
“So, in theory, law enforcement could continue with the business of the traffic stop, even if the personal information contained on the registration was ‘blacked out,’ or if the vehicle registration was not available in the car,” he said.

But he referred me to the Department of Licensing for an opinion about blacking out the address, which Brad Benfield provided above.

Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here concurred with Scott Wilson’s comments, also deferred to the DOL as to whether obscuring the address in legal, but he had an opinion. He also said this about the need for a physical address on both the driver’s license and registration:

“Officers use the information for various reasons including cross-checking valid addresses on drivers, locating correct residential addresses when following up on criminal activity associated with a vehicle where the vehicle license may be the only evidence to follow up on, i.e. hit and run collisions, pursuits where the license is obtained and either the vehicle gets away or the pursuit is terminated for safety reasons. There are obviously other valid reasons. So, there is importance that DOL has a valid residential as well as mailing address.
“Is it legal to black out required information on the registration? I would say no, the vehicle registration is a legal document required to be presented upon lawful request of law enforcement. Vehicle license plates, as well as driver licenses, are the property of the issuing state as long as the items are usable and valid. Altering, deleting or concealing required information on the items would not be legal in my opinion.

One thought on “Obscuring one’s address on vehicle registration is of dubious legality

  1. I never took into account the fact that registration holds so much information that anyone can access if they find a way into your car. I’ve had my windows smashed and the radio was stolen, but luckily nothing else. I’m going to take this information into account and make sure I put all of my valuable documents in a more discreet place than the glove compartment. Otherwise, I’m going to make a conscious effort to keep the glove box locked when I’m not in the car!

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