How Many Shades of Registration Violations?

Gray is in.  And DMV knows it.   

The News and Observer’s Road Worrier, Bruce Siceloff, reports that DMV is dropping its colorful registration renewal stickers in favor of neutral gray ones—and saving more than $70,000 a year as a result.  A single gray sticker featuring both the month and year will replace the separate month and year stickers that now adorn North Carolina plates.

Siceloff’s report got me thinking about those pesky registration violations.  C’mon, you know you’ve had one.  Or someone in your family has.

Expired tags.  Indeed, there were nearly 230,000 charges in 2014 for willfully displaying an expired registration plate on a vehicle. Violation of this provision is a Class 3 misdemeanor.  G.S. 20-111(2).  This is by far the most common type of registration violation and is the second most commonly charged criminal offense in the state (right behind speeding).

But there are several other ways in which people run afoul of the vehicle registration statutes.

Revoked registration. G.S. 20-111(2) also makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to display or possess a registration card, certificate of title, or registration plate that has been canceled, revoked or suspended.  Such suspensions can result from failure to pay tolls due to the NC Turnpike Authority and failure to pay a fine imposed under G.S. 20-217 for passing a stopped school bus, among other misdeeds. More than 36,000 defendants were charged with this variety of registration offense in 2014.

Fictitious or altered registration. Possessing or displaying a registration card, certificate of title, or registration plate that you know has been altered or that you know is fictitious also is a Class 3 misdemeanor. There were more than 26,000 charges for this offense last year.

No registration. Driving a vehicle on a highway that is not registered or allowing someone else to so drive a vehicle you own also is a Class 3 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-111(1). More than 20,000 defendants were charged with this offense in 2014.  It likewise is unlawful to fail to display a current registration plate when driving a vehicle on a highway or to allow someone else to so drive a vehicle you own. Charges for this offense are far less common than those previously mentioned. There were 3,166 such charges in 2014.

Lending a plate. It is unlawful to give, lend or borrow a license plate for use on a vehicle other than that for which it was issued. G.S. 20-111(3). Both the giver and the recipient are guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. When a license plate is found being so improperly used, it must be canceled. There were nearly 4,000 charges for this offense last year.

Keep it clean.  G.S. 20-63(g) generally prohibits the alteration, disguise or concealment of numbers on a registration plate. A person who does any of the following commits a Class 2 misdemeanor:

  • Willfully mutilates, bends, or twists a registration plate
  • Causes a registration plate to be covered or partially covered by a bumper, light, spare tire, tire rack, strap, or other device
  • Paints, enamels, embosses, stamps, prints, perforates, or alters a registration plate or its figures or letters
  • Deposits oil, grease, or another substance on the plate for the purpose of making dust stick to it
  • Defaces, disfigures, changes, or attempts to change a letter or figure on a registration plate
  • Displays a registration plate in other than a horizontal upright position


In 2014, there were 647 charges for having a registration plate improperly attached, and 394 charges for other misdemeanor violations of G.S. 20-63(g).

License plate frames and covers. G.S. 20-63(g) also regulates license plate frames and covers.  A motor vehicle operator who does any of the following commits an infraction:

  • Intentionally covers any number or registration renewal sticker on a registration plate with material that makes the number or registration renewal sticker illegible
  • Covers a registration plate with any frame or transparent, clear, or color-tinted cover that makes a number or letter in the vehicle’s registration, the State name on the plate, or a number or month on the registration renewal sticker illegible
  • Willfully covers or causes to be covered any part of a registration plate by a device designed to prevent or interfere with the taking of clear photograph of the registration plate by a traffic control or toll collection system

Nearly 1,000 defendants were charged with infractions under G.S. 20-63(g) in 2014.

Failure to sign registration card. The next time you get in your car, open your glove box, and pull out your registration. Is it signed? If it isn’t, you’re in violation of G.S. 20-57(c), which requires that the owner of a vehicle sign the registration card with pen and ink. Registration cards must be carried in the vehicle to which they refer at all times and must be displayed upon an officer’s demand. Violation of these provisions is an infraction. Nearly 1,500 defendants were cited last year for failure to sign their registration cards, and more than twice that many for failure to carry them.