Police highway patrol
Photograph ©2021 by Brian Cohen.

Another Reason to Check Your Rental Vehicle Before Driving It.

You could avoid getting pulled over by a police officer.

Inspecting the vehicle thoroughly is at least one of the 14 tips on what you can do to prevent from being scammed by a rental car company — but another reason to check your rental vehicle before driving it by taking an extra few seconds to check one thing during that inspection may save you from being pulled over by a law enforcement officer.

Another Reason to Check Your Rental Vehicle Before Driving It.

Police highway patrol
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Government agencies around the world typically charge a registration fee to keep a license plate from expiring. That registration fee is basically a clerical fee — meaning that it is not for the purposes of safety — so that the government entity can earn money while keeping track of vehicles which are registered within its jurisdiction…

…and if a police officer spots a license plate which is expired, he or she has probable cause to pull a motorist over — which can lead to other violations that can result in fines.

My Unexpected Experience: Getting a Ticket From a Police Officer

New York Police highway patrol Coney Island
Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

As a person whose own personal vehicles over the years have never had license plates that expired, I typically never think to look to ensure that the license plate is registered and valid. For example, that validation is in the form of a colored sticker on the license plate itself in some states; while in other states, the registration sticker could be affixed to the inside of the windshield.

I had just eaten dinner at a restaurant and was driving back to where I was staying only a couple of miles away. I left the parking lot of the restaurant; turned left to leave the area; and stopped at the main road before I turned right. Every time I turned, I appropriately used the turn signal indicator lights in advance.

After turning right, I drove a few yards and saw that a line of vehicles were in the right lane waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green; while only one car was in the left lane. I signaled and changed lanes. I could not have been moving forward more than ten miles per hour.

Once the green light was illuminated on the traffic light, I started to proceed when I saw bright flashing lights behind me. Thinking that an emergency had just developed, I signaled and switched back to the right lane. The vehicle behind me with the flashing lights followed me into the right lane. Puzzled, I then signaled again and pulled over to a safe spot on the right side of the road before stopping; and again, the vehicle behind me with the flashing lights followed me.

What could I have done? I wondered to myself. I signaled each time I turned or changed lanes. I certainly was not speeding or driving erratically. Nothing seemed to be mechanically wrong with the vehicle. Now I was both curious and perplexed as to what was going on.

After the law enforcement introduced himself and asked for my driver’s licence, he stated that the registration sticker on the license plate had just expired. After some conversation and giving him the information that I did not own the vehicle, he issued me a citation with a summons to appear in court — but no fine was stated at the time.

I, of course, was not happy about what transpired. I eventually found out via the Internet that the fine was $177.00. Fortunately, I was able to attend court on the day that I was scheduled to appear. I watched some of the other cases being addressed: people had not stopped at a stop sign, drove in excess of the posted speed limit, drove without a license, and were caught driving with expired license plates.

When my turn to stand before the judge came, the clerk of the court recommended to the judge that my citation be reduced to merely a warning, as I had proof that the vehicle that I drove had since renewed the registration of the license plate. The only strange part that I was not expecting was the judge apologizing to me for the time that I had to wait before having this case resolved. He then asked if I agreed with the reduction of my citation being reduced to a mere warning — with a look on his face that almost resembled a wink — and I agreed.

I was then free to go. The charge against me was officially dropped; and the case was dismissed. I thanked the judge and his assistant before leaving the courthouse.

Final Boarding Call

Police highway patrol
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Note that in most states in the United States, driving a vehicle with expired license plates is typically considered a non-moving violation.

Although this experience cost me nothing — other than some time and a gallon or so of gasoline — I am not sure why the law enforcement officer issued me a citation with a summons to appear in court instead of an official warning: “Ensure that the registration is renewed and submit proof of renewal electronically within 15 days and the charge will be dismissed.”

I probably could have had a representative of the rental car company go to court on my behalf and attempt to get the charge off of my record — but how can I trust them with that when they failed the simple task of keeping the registration of the license plate of the vehicle up to date?

I also learned that even though I did not own the motor vehicle that I was driving, I was still responsible for ensuring that I was driving a vehicle whose registration of its license plate did not expire…

…so please learn from my experience and do yourself a favor: as part of the inspection of the rental vehicle before leaving so that you minimize your chances of being scammed by the rental car company, ensure that you take a few extra seconds to check that the registration of its license plates is valid. It will save you time in the long run — and possibly some money as well.

All photographs ©2007, ©2021, and ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

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