Tag Archives: registration

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.

Registration in the trunk? Not a good idea

The in basket: One of the Seattle TV stations ran a weird story last week about a woman who had had her vehicle registration stolen from her glove box in a car prowl, leaving her fearful of ID theft and home invasion.

The report suggested taking your registration with you when parking in public. I don’t recall if that recommendation was attributed to any agency. An alternative would be to put it in the trunk.

If I followed the suggestion, I’d be applying for a new registration every month or so because I’d lose the one I’d taken from its relatively safe location in my glove box.

I asked my police sources if this is really a concern and about the most likely reaction by a police officer told by a stopped driver that his registration was in the trunk. And I asked the Department of Licensing if they charge for a replacement registration.

The out basket: None thought it to be much of a threat.

Brad Benfield of the Department of Licensing said, “This is an issue that came up a couple years ago, but I don’t get the sense that it’s a widespread problem or any more concerning than mail theft or other types of potential ID crime.”

Thieves had broken into cars at a movie theater and taken the registration and garage door opener, he recalled. “That way they would have the home address, a key, and knowledge the owners wouldn’t be home for at least an hour,” he said.

“From a document standpoint, a registration certificate just has a name and address on it – no driver license number or Social Security number. I don’t think it would be a highly valuable document for ID fraud purposes.”

And yes, they charge $5 for a replacement registration plus $5 more if at a subagent office.

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said storing one’s registration in the trunk is not a recommended action.

“Should a driver advise an officer that the document is in the trunk it will, most likely, result in a request by the officer for a second unit to respond to the location as a back-up, unless the patrol vehicle is a two-officer unit.

“Law enforcement officers aren’t real keen on vehicle occupants rummaging around inside of a car or wanting to gain access to the vehicle’s trunk.

“Performing these actions probably would lengthen the time of the vehicle traffic stop,” he said.

State Trooper Russ Winger added, “We can’t have motorists getting in and out of vehicles on a regular basis. It’s dangerous traffic-wise and also for officer safety.

“In rare cases, we can run a DOL check and get the information we require. But we need to have that registration produced by the driver as a routine procedure.

“I personally doubt that the criminal activity you are talking about is a common problem, although I have heard the instance of the garage door opener theft. But that was long ago.

“If you weigh the risks involved, I think driver and officer safety is far more important.

“Keep the papers in your car, not the trunk though. You can also fold it up and keep it in your wallet or purse if it is that concerning to you. Most insurance companies provide wallet size ID cards or can, if requested.”

Scott also noted that using a post office box number for your registration address, if you have one, would frustrate such a crime.