- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

The director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles yesterday said she would like to end the long-standing practice of D.C. Council members’ distributing special license plates to family and friends because it confuses the city’s ticketing and registry systems.

“I would love it if this were not how it were done, but I understand the world is much bigger than me,” DMV Director Anne Witt said.

Since the 1970s, council members have distributed several hundred low-numbered plates, which have accrued more than $20,000 in unpaid parking tickets, according to DMV records. The Washington Times first reported about the plates’ debt Wednesday.

Miss Witt said all low-level plate holders who have legitimate tickets on their records will be required to pay their fines.

“For the tickets that are due — we will find you, and we do,” she said. “I think people have experienced that.”

Miss Witt said many of special plate holders are paying their fines, some of which total thousands of dollars. Some plate holders have had their licenses suspended, while others are participating in six-month-long payment plans, she said.

Miss Witt said that the council and mayor are allowed to distribute plate numbers 1 through 1250 and that the DMV requires those plates to be re-registered each year on April 1.

Council members or the mayor can allow a recipient to keep a plate for an extended period or can reassign it each year. But doing so can create a long chain of owners and result in a trail of unpaid tickets, the DMV director said.

“There is a reason DMVs don’t reissue tags to different people,” Miss Witt said. “The reason DMVs don’t do this is exactly this point — you confuse the history particularly in respect to tickets … they’re difficult for DMV because they’re changing owners often, and the underlying issue [is] keeping them straight with the respect to the registration.”

An ordinary D.C. license plate, which displays two letters and four numbers, is assigned to one holder who keeps the plate indefinitely regardless of the vehicle he or she owns. The plate is not passed on to a new holder or reassigned unless the owner surrenders it to the DMV.

DMV spokeswoman Janis Hazel said Tuesday that a glitch in the DMV computer system has kept the database from consistently recognizing when a new owner is assigned a low-numbered plate.

DMV officials yesterday said they are working with contractors to improve the system.

“We are getting better with integrating Destiny, our driver and vehicle system, with our ticket system,” Miss Witt said.

Still, she said, errors occur frequently and most commonly by ticket writers and workers who enter the tickets into the computer system.

“There’s always things; I spend my whole day on that,” she said. “Errors happen all the time — ticket writer transposes, data enter transposes, the car was stolen … it happens. And then we have to dig through and sort it out and get back information and resolve it.”

Miss Witt said one license plate identified by The Times as belonging to Thomas M. Smith has two tickets that were mistakenly left on it because of a long-term suspension put in place more than six years ago.

She said Mr. Smith, who has never picked up his plate and did not own the plate when $210 worth of parking tickets were issued on it in 1997 and 1998.

The DMV knows who did have the tag, Miss Witt said, adding that her agency will remove the tickets from Mr. Smith’s record and contact the actual owner.

“I need to get them either out of the system or properly assigned, depending on why they were suspended,” Miss Witt said. “We know who had the tag.”

In addition, some low-numbered plates were incorrectly assigned tickets through an agency mixup over the vanity plates and D.C. government vehicle tags, Miss Witt said.

Plates for city government vehicles use number sequences similar to those of the vanity plates, she said, adding that a ticket writer could be easily confused by the similarities.

Miss Witt said she will examine the system to make sure no low-numbered plate holders have tickets that do not belong to them.

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