The California Highway Patrol (CHP) wants people to act as citizen “snitches” and report out-of-state drivers who cheat on their vehicle registration fees. Either these rebel drivers have not registered their out-of-state vehicles in California, or are California residents who have registered their vehicles out-of-state to avoid paying the high vehicle tax. CHP wants the eyes and ears of citizens on the alert to spot these ‘cheaters’ and when they find one, use the CHP internet site to report them via the Californians Help Eliminate All The Evasive Registration Scofflaws (CHEATERS) program.
Given that California Governor Jerry Brown just passed a 156.3 billion 2014-2015 budget, it is no wonder that the highway patrol wants to collect on the estimated 10 million a year in lost revenue due to cheating auto owners disregarding California law. These “scofflaws” have apparently infuriated some California residents who see them as cheaters who have no problems using the state’s infrastructure while ducking out of the pricey fees law-abiding state drivers shell out every year. Others however, have reported that they are just not comfortable with idea of ratting out people to a government agency.
The program of citizen informers, which was developed in 2004, seems to be working and the CHP has brought in over 3.2 million in just the last two years from drivers busted on CHEATERS. In 2014 alone the state has already garnered $1,074,594 in fees that otherwise might never have been collected. Informers with sharp eyes simply sign on to the internet site provided by the CHP, provide basic information such as the license plate number, a description of the suspect vehicle, when and where it was observed and then the CHP tracks down the owner. If the owner does not pay their registration fees, they can be fined up to $1,000 in addition to what they already owe and they can face up to six months in jail. Currently there is no reward for these citizen “eyes and ears” except perhaps the satisfaction of holding cheaters accountable for their “unfair” actions.
In addition to the lost revenue, the CHP and green Californians are concerned that these unregistered vehicles, while they may meet the federal emission standards set for 49 other states, may not meet the stricter smog standards set by California. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) smog check exemptions are given to hybrids, vehicle models from 1975 or older, diesel powered models from 1997 or older with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 pounds, electric models, and natural gas powered models with a GVWR rating of more than 14,00 pounds.
California residents who purchase cars and trucks from out-of-state must obtain a valid smog certification. New state residents who have either moved to California or accepted employment in the state have just 20 days in which to register their autos with the DMV.
Vehicle registration fees in California are much higher than for example, the bordering state of Oregon, and can range from less than $150 to over $400 per year. Ostensibly, the majority of the fees go back to the cities and counties in which the vehicle is registered. People who attempt to duck out of paying their registration fees run the risk of being reported to CHEATERS by citizen snitches who may be outraged at the “unfairness” of some paying all and some paying none, or simply have a strong passion for justice. The CHP, which does not have the resources to check every license plate, hopes that more citizens will take part in the CHEATERS reporting program because their assistance can serve to stem the state’s loss of funds due to vehicle registration scofflaws.
By Alana Marie Burke