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Editorial: Licence to ill

The RNC is investigating reports that shots were fired at three people Sunday afternoon in the Cochrane Pond area.
Practically every day in the St. John’s metro area, the RNC conducts traffic stops and finds uninsured and often unlicenced vehicles on the road. — Telegram file photo

It’s an almost daily occurrence.

In the overnight police report, it’s spelled out like this: police “conducted a traffic safety stop in the Cowan Heights area of St. John’s. The 20-year-old male driver was determined to be operating the vehicle without valid insurance, a suspended licence and had failed to transfer the ownership of the vehicle. The vehicle was subsequently impounded and the male was issued summary offence tickets and released.”

There were two cases like that on Tuesday, one on Saturday, one last Thursday.

On the first day of February, there were five cases during a single overnight shift of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

It’s a recurring problem — police pull over a car that has been sold, but for which the sale hasn’t been registered, meaning the vehicle is carrying what looks like a valid licence plate and sticker. Until there’s an actual traffic stop, it’s driving as usual.

Drivers with huge fines are never going to be able to pay them, nor will they be able to legally own, insure and operate a vehicle.

As a result, some people are piling up tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines — and worse for everyone else, unregistered, uninsured cars are on the road. If they are in accidents, sometimes they simply leave the scene. In the case of a major accident, everyone else in the insurance pool ends up paying for the damage. Even more uncollectible fines get added to an illegal driver who has absolutely no intention of paying them — ever.

But how can anyone stop the process? (At this point, the police probably recognize a fair few of the regular illegal drivers, and stop them simply on sight.)

Drivers with huge fines are never going to be able to pay them, nor will they be able to legally own, insure and operate a vehicle. For them, the simplest option is to just buy another used vehicle from an unsuspecting seller, fail to register the sale, and if they get caught, just let the thousands of dollars in fines tick ever-higher. The car is impounded, but they just buy another and move on.

Maybe it’s time to think about it differently.

Perhaps a simple change in the rules could make it easier to stop this particular game: how about, when a private sale is made, the previous owner has to keep the licence plate from the vehicle, and the new owner gets a six-day temporary plate that they can pick up in advance at Motor Vehicle Registration? After those six days, the new owner has to register the sale.

That way, police would be able to spot unlicenced vehicles and pull them over immediately — having to get a new car every few weeks simply wouldn’t be financially viable.

But what if plates are simply stolen to cover up the sale? Well, stealing plates is theft, and wouldn’t be a simple fine. If you’re caught with illegal plates, maybe a little jail time persuasion would help.

The system now simply isn’t working.

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