Friday, January 13, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Mystery Ticket

by Peggy Robin

Earlier this week I received a mysterious mailing from the Department of Motor Vehicles. In large black lettering on a pink background was the headline “NOTICE OF UNSATISFIED PARKING TICKETS.” I was struck by several reactions all at once, in somewhat random order:

“Unsatisfied”? Who calls an unpaid parking ticket an “unsatisfied” ticket. That’s just weird.

I know I never received this ticket on my car. And there are two glaringly obvious reasons for that: 

1. On the date and time noted on the ticket, my car happened to be parked in my driveway in Cleveland Park, not at an expired meter near Dupont Circle; and

2. I do not own a car with the tag number shown on the ticket. 

So I'm thinking that the ticket must be due to some sort of typo in the recording of the license plate number.

Immediately, I’m hoping that there is some simple way to notify the DMV that the ticket is in error. A quick check of the DMV's website is reassuring: I can dispute the ticket by filling out an online web form. There’s a space for a defense of up to 4000 characters, perfectly adequate for me to explain that I do not own a car with the ticketed tag number. But here’s the more troublesome problem: How do I prove a negative? What sort of documentation do I need to produce to prove that I do not own a car with that tag number? The DMV website provides space to upload as many as six documents to back up my case.  

My first thought is to find out who does own the car with the tags in question. So I tried running that search on the DMV's database. The result: "Our records indicate that tag number BU9488 is either expired or not in use in any vehicle registered with the DC DMV. Please verify your input and try again. Reference number # 570639”  So I take a screen shot of that response and upload it as one of my defense documents.

But then I notice something odd that I had neglected to focus on earlier. That license plate number is somehow vaguely familiar. A little digging through my old car records shows that six years ago, that was the tag number on the old minivan we owned. But when we bought a new car in 2006, we traded in the minivan, canceling the old tags and paying a fee to have the dealer (in Northern Virginia) take care of getting the car registered in DC, with a new set of tags. So document #2 in my case is the itemized receipt from the car dealership showing the VIN number of the car we traded in and haven't seen since 2006. Just to be make clear that the VIN shown on the trade-in was the same as the one that bore that tag number, I sent in a copy of the old registration, which shows the match. I have to hope that these two documents together are sufficient to prove that we no longer own the minivan that once was registered to us with that license plate number. 

So that's my case. I hit "submit" and now I wait -- I'm not sure for how long. But as soon as I get the verdict, I will let you know if having traded in a car six years ago works as a defense against a DC parking ticket. (And if it doesn't, you can be sure I'll let you know about that!)

1 comment:

  1. The DC Web site says that tags can't just be cancelled; they have to be returned to the DMV, which then issues a receipt. Maybe you did that. If not, the tags may still be out there somewhere.