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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

D.C. TAGS VIOLATE MARYLAND LAW? Here we go again. The stories arising out of miscues at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles have become so frequent that you almost have to wonder if the folks over at Sherryl Hobbs-Newman's agency are intentionally trying to win the "Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" Award.

This time, it's Chevy Chase Village Police Chief Roy Gordon weighing in with the news that D.C. motorists better scrape those expired validation stickers off their vehicle license tags or they risk receiving $50 tickets anywhere in the state of Maryland for displaying expired tags. Properly displaying the new D.C. validation sticker on your vehicle's windshield, along with expired stickers on your vehicle's metal tags, does not comply with Maryland's laws that apply to any vehicle driven in that state.

Seems no one at the District's DMV bothered to notify suburban law enforcement officials that D.C. was replacing its annual vehicle tag validation stickers with a windshield sticker. Minus any notice, law enforcement officials in Maryland and elsewhere across the continental United States will see only expired license tags on a D.C. vehicle if motorists don't obliterate the old stickers, Chief Gordon warns.

"If DMV had notified folks that they were going to this new format, I feel several folks would have offered suggestions," Chief Gordon wrote in a recent e-mail to Councilman Adrian Fenty, whose ward borders Maryland. Gordon suggested that D.C. issue new metal plates along with the windshield validation stickers.

"It would have also been helpful for DMV to send a teletype to all law enforcement agencies across the country and, at a minimum, to those in the Washington metro area announcing the changes," Gordon wrote.

Gordon expressed hope that officers "would use good discretion" when encountering D.C. motorists who are unaware that their D.C. tags violate Maryland's law. But he also noted the "confusion and frustration DMV has subjected its customers" to by failing to adequately prepare for the change.

DMV officials apparently also disregarded the difficulty that police will now face by not being able to tell at a glance whether someone is driving a D.C. vehicle with expired tags. That just happens to be one of those minor infractions that often lead police officers to stop motorists who turn out to be wanted for committing serious crimes. You have to wonder if the folks at DMV even bothered to pick up a phone to ask Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey for his comments before making the change.

And beware: During the transition to the new system, many motorists also did not get their routine notices in the mail to renew their tags. That meant a trip to the DMV in person. Some vehicle owners, of course, got their renewal notice in a most-unwelcome way: a pink ticket on the windshield carrying a fine of $100.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator