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Expired Paper License Plates Multiplied During Covid. The Crackdown Is Here.

After hearing complaints about streets filled with cars with expired temporary license tags, the mayor of St. Charles, Mo., invited his constituents to send in photos of bad plates. He received more than 4,100 in a year — from a city of about 71,000 people.

A Washington, D.C., Council member wants to make it easier for officials to tow cars with expired tags, saying the proliferation of them around town “makes my community members crazy.” Texas will soon require dealerships to issue temporary metal plates when a car rolls off the lot, replacing the oft-abused paper tags.

The crackdown on “temp tags” comes in response to a problem that officials say has festered for years but exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside other chaos on American roads. Fatalities from car crashes rose, while pedestrian deaths in 2021 reached their highest level since the early 1980s. Such deaths have declined slightly, but remained well above prepandemic levels last year.

The rise in fake or expired plates has been robbing governments of needed revenue and making it harder to enforce traffic laws, which the American driver seems more emboldened than ever to ignore, part of a larger erosion of social mores.

“From what I am seeing, there is a real breakdown in automotive law and order,’’ said Dan Borgmeyer, the St. Charles mayor who encouraged citizens to report expired tags in his St. Louis suburb.

Mayor Dan Borgmeyer of St. Charles, Mo., received more than 41,000 photos of cars with expired temporary license plates after he asked constituents to report them. Credit…Bryan Birks for The New York Times

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