D.C.’s unauthorized discount vehicle registration—the illicit dealer temporary tag—is soon being kicked to the curb. In its place come two, much flashier dealer tags.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is planning to release the new tags in the coming weeks in an attempt to thwart drivers who use counterfeit or invalid ones (“Grand Thrift Auto,” 11/28/03). Though the agency has yet to make the designs public, members of the deputy mayor’s temporary-tag task force say they will most likely include extra security features and a shorter valid period.

The redesign comes as part of a larger DMV effort to manage its temporary license plates, says agency Director Anne Witt. “We’re working on a number of changes on the tag itself,” she says, “but we’re also working on the issuance and control of the tags and other aspects of vehicle registration.”

Over the years, it’s become a tradition for drivers who don’t want to pay for registration and insurance to make do with expired, fake, or altered temporary tags. On some blocks of the city—particularly those east of the river—it’s not unusual to see seven soft-tagged cars parked in a row.

“Everybody’s driving around with paper tags,” says Rob, a Shipley Terrace resident who says he bought his own $150 dealer tag from a neighborhood mechanic. (The price included phony registration papers.) “You can pretty much be 13, 14 years old and get a car.”

The existing dealer tag includes a mild anti-tampering device: a thin reflective strip printed with the expiration date, shielded in plastic laminate. But some unregistered drivers peel away the laminate to rewrite the expiration date, extending the 30-day intended lifespan of the tag for as long as the cardboard holds together. Other scofflaws print their own tags from computers, substituting tinfoil or metallic gift ribbon for the reflective strip.

The new dealer tags will probably sport a hologram and other elements intended to thwart forgery. They’ll also be more striking than the old forest-green tags: Fourth District Police Officer Ernie Davis, who sits on the city task force, says used autos will get a strident gold-colored plate, new cars a bashful pink one.

Each series will expire after 20 days, says Davis. “See, everybody is buying temp tags for $150, $200 a pop,” he explains, “and maybe [by] having to buy them more often they’ll want to get legal tags. That’s the theory, anyway.”

Davis guesses that expensive insurance and the District’s policy of taxing clunkers on their Blue Book value will ensure the continuing abuse of temporary tags. “[The redesign] might curb it some, but it won’t fix the problem,” he says. “People in D.C. have gotten used to doing it one way, and that’s the incorrect way.” CP