Thursday, August 6, 2009

I wish Illinois could make up its mind with regard to all of those old license plates

I’m about to “age” myself – I can remember the days when Illinois motorists received a brand new license plate every single year.

It wasn’t just that stupid renewal sticker that we paste over the old ones so that eventually, we have a half-dozen of those stuck on the license plate with the glue of the original sticker – which probably is how many years old?

WHAT MADE ME remember this was a story published in the Chicago Tribune about how the Illinois secretary of state’s office is having trouble getting some people to turn in license plates that appear to be defective.

By “defective,” I mean that the reflective coating that is supposed to make the numbers jump out so that police can readily identify any automobile from a distance is bubbling up.

That actually makes it difficult for the police to tell which car is which as they zoom down the highway.

That might be great for those of us who think that cop ought to have something better to do than bother us while we’re busy. But it does create a potential hazard for law enforcement.

IT TURNS OUT the defective license plates were issued between 2001 and 2003. There were about 1.1 million such plates – which comprise about one-tenth of all license plates currently in use.

What is bothering state officials is that they sent out notices informing people of the defect and a willingness to replace the license plates free of charge. Yet only about 1,000 motorists took the state up on that offer to get a new license plate.

It would seem that Illinois has bred a generation of people who are so conditioned to believe that the dinged up, rusty, unreadable license plate that has been on their car for years (and may very well have been transferred from a previous vehicle) is theirs for life.

The idea of a clean license plate on a car is something that is supposed to go away shortly after that “new car smell” ceases to be in the vehicle one has just purchased.

ALL IN ALL, it’s quite a difference from the days of my childhood, when I can remember my father getting a new license plate every year. It even reminds me of my stepmother’s father, who used to keep his old license plates and had them mounted on the wall in his old garage.

Now, the idea of having more than one license plate is an alien concept, just as much as the thought that people who published copy once wrote it on manual typewriters.

The idea of having the plate mounted anywhere except on the back and front of the car (except for those who refuse to put the front plate on as some sort of symbolic protest against “the man” trying to ID them) is unheard of.

What is pathetic is the new angle of this controversy, which was the point of a Tribune story.

IT TURNS OUT that the state is now sending out notices informing people that police are going to start looking for those unreadable license plates and will reserve the right to issue tickets to motorists whose plates they consider to be too dinged up for the police to be satisfied.

When one considers that I still have a problem with the lack of a driver wearing a seatbelt to be a primary offense, I really have a problem with the idea of police suddenly being able to pull a motorist over because he (or she) says there is a problem with the license plate.

It just seems like something that puts way too much discretion in the hands of the police officer.

It’s not like I have ever seen my car being driven so that I could tell how readable the license plate is while the vehicle is moving. I wouldn’t know how to contest such a charge.

NOT THAT MY vehicle’s license plate falls into this particular category. The plates I am driving on now were issued in 2007 (in my case, they are the third set of Illinois license plates I have had in my lifetime).

I don’t see that they are the least bit rusted or dented, and they appear to me to have the proper glare that would make them readable from a distance.

I am a far cry from a friend of mine who used to tell a story about how he once drove his now ex-wife’s car and got pulled over by a police officer in Missouri – who insisted on checking out the license plate up close because from a distance he thought it was a piece of cardboard, and was appalled to learn that the license plate on the car was (at that point) 14 years old!

At least the state is having the decency to replace the license plates they consider to be defective free of charge. That would be the ultimate insult – making someone have to pay another fee in order to avoid getting a ticket and a fine.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Illinois secretary of state’s office figures it still has to get nearly 800,000 (,0,4258888.story) defective license plates from the early 2000s off the road.

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