Smooth Road Ahead

Smooth Road Ahead

A new AAMVA report clears up confusion on specific-use plates

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Specific-use license plates—those that are not assigned to a particular vehicle but rather to a business entity—serve the function of allowing unregistered vehicles to move legally. Dealer plates, or those used in repossession, salvage, auction or repair are examples.

While the purpose of these plates is necessary and their use is widespread, a potential for fraud comes with it. A specific-use plate intended to make a vehicle legal to test drive, for example, could be illegally placed on another vehicle to avoid registration fees, or be used to commit a more serious crime. When the fraud occurs in multiple jurisdictions, with varied laws and terminology, the problem becomes even more complex. Recognizing the need for establishing best practices to reduce such misuse, an AAMVA working group was formed to create a report designed to clarify correct usage and warn against fraud.

The report states, “Dealer plates may be restricted in some jurisdictions to test drives and movement of a vehicle for repair or sale, while other jurisdictions may allow the plate to be used for personal use by family members. The enforcement of this permitted use is normally the responsibility of law enforcement, who may be challenged to know the types and permitted use of specific-use license plates within their own jurisdiction. When confronted with a specific-use license plate from outside their jurisdiction, law enforcement may have no idea and may lack resources to determine if the plate is being used properly.”

As working group chair Katie Bower, of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning observes, the report is intended to share “best practices on things that states could do to regulate, monitor and educate not only persons using the plates, but law enforcement, the public and their jurisdictional staff who are issuing the plates on what to look for and how to detect fraud.”

The report covers a lot of ground, with a general focus on processes to verify that a business is legally entitled to such plates and has the necessary insurance, passes background checks and other ways to hold businesses accountable for the vehicles.

“Some of the other best practices,” Bower says, “are to ensure that you’re creating internal policies and procedures that your staff understands they have to adhere to, and educate users of the plates, the jurisdictional staff who are issuing the plates, law enforcement as well as the public. And then making sure that the entities maintaining or using the plates are keeping records for which vehicles they’re being placed on.”

As law enforcement officers are not always up to date on specific-use plates, the report provides a section designed to share best practices with them, for their own edification and to strengthen their working relationships with MVAs. Vehicle Program Manager Marcy Coleman, a member of the working group that created the report, comments that when communication between the MVA and law enforcement is solid, each side will naturally help the other. She adds, “It’s on the MVAs to make sure that they communicate with law enforcement and set up those partnerships, to make sure that you have a good working relationship with your law enforcement, and with your prosecutor’s office as well.”

To view all of the best practices for specific-Use License plates, go to

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