Q: Some car prowlers are known to use victims’ vehicle registration certificates to target their homes for burglary. According to a victim of a car break-in, the police suggested you photocopy your registration, obliterate the address with a marker, keep that in your vehicle and leave the original at home. Is that permissible? Kurt J., Tacoma
A: We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters don’t think so.
First, some background.
Kurt is right that thieves occasionally steal a person’s vehicle registration and use the information on it to target homes for burglaries.
Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said she can’t recall any similar crimes in T-town, but she acknowledged that registrations sometimes are taken during car prowls.
“Vehicle prowlers at gyms break into cars to steal visible items, purses, wallets, laptops briefcases and whatever is readily available,” Cool said.
“I do know that officers tell victims that if the car was broken into and the registration is gone, to be aware that the thief knows where you live, the type of car you drive and other personal information that could be used for identity theft.”
So what about the photocopy idea, Officer Cool?
“Most officers would not accept it as a registration,” she said. “It is supposed to be what is issued by the state and signed.”
State Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield seconded that.
“We would advise people to always carry the signed original,” Benfield said. “A photocopy probably would raise suspicion with a law enforcement officer.”
So what’s a poor driver worried about identity theft or burglaries to do?
RCW 46.16A.180 is the state law regulating vehicle registration certificates.
It requires, in part, that a “registration certificate must be: (a) Signed by the registered owner … to be valid; (b) Carried in the vehicle for which it is issued; and (c) Provided to law enforcement and the department by the operator of the vehicle upon demand.”
There’s also this, though, listed under (d):
“The registration certificate required by this section may be provided either in paper or electronic format. Acceptable electronic formats include the display of electronic images on a cellular phone or any other type of portable electronic device.”
So does that mean a driver could snap a photo of or electronically scan his or her registration and store the image on a cell phone or tablet and present that to a law enforcement officer who’d pulled him or her over?
Benfield doesn’t think so.
He believes that provision of the law, added in 2013, was meant to pave the way for the Licensing Department to some day issue electronic registrations that drivers could keep on their cell phones, not for drivers to make their own digital versions today.
Benfield said people worried about theft could drag their paper registrations along with them into the movie theater or gym. A locking glove box also could deter would-be registration thieves.
And both the Licensing Department and local law enforcement agencies advise folks to not leave their garage-door openers in their vehicles when they park in public places. A garage-door opener is as good as a set of keys to the front door of your house.
Proof of insurance is another story.
Some insurance companies already issue electronic versions of insurance cards for use on cell phones, and state law allows the electronic version in lieu of a paper copy.