What’s with all the expired car tabs on the road?

Nov 3, 2022, 5:36 AM
(MyNorthwest file photo)
(MyNorthwest file photo)

Time for Chokepoints: Tell the truth edition.

Be honest. Are your car tabs up to date? Our listeners have noticed a lot of expired tabs out there lately.

This is something I hadn’t really noticed until people started bringing it up. Now I can’t drive for very long without noticing an expired tab. Some are a month or two. Some are more than a year.

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The Department of Licensing actually doesn’t track non-renewals. The reason? Many cars are sold, sent out of state, sit in empty garages, or wrecked in crashes. The public is not required to inform the state of those circumstances, so the DOL doesn’t track them.

The State Patrol does keep stats on the number of people with expired tabs from those who have been pulled over. Before the pandemic, nearly 80,000 drivers would be caught with expired tabs a year. Those numbers fell during the pandemic, as did all WSP violations, because of staffing shortages and other factors.

Through October of this year, nearly 42,000 people have been pulled over with expired tabs.  Washington State Patrol Sergeant Chelsea Hodgson said you can be pulled over just for this.

“They are still considered a primary offense,” she said. “We can pull them over for tabs just like we could for speeding or any other equipment violation.”

But Sergeant Hodgson said many of the violations are found while drivers are pulled over for other offenses. “It could be something where we stopped them for speed or some other violation, and when we go up there, we ask for license, registration, and proof of insurance. At that point, we might notice that your tabs are expired,” she said.

91% of drivers have been given verbal or written warnings for tab violations so far this year. Prior to the pandemic, warnings were running at about 89%.

Sergeant Hodgson said troopers have the final call on whether to issue a ticket.

“It’s up to the officer’s discretion on what they want to do,” she said. “We can educate through verbal and written warnings, or we could use enforcement action through infractions or citations depending on what the violation is.”

You can be pulled over and ticketed, even if you are one day late on your tabs, but it’s clear that troopers are somewhat lenient and focus on educating drivers. If your tabs are less than two months overdue, the fine is $136. More than two months, the ticket will run you $228.

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Sergeant Hodgson said most people just aren’t aware their tabs have expired.

I have heard from listeners who say they haven’t renewed because of the cost, especially in the Sound Transit taxing district where the tabs are so expensive. Some tell me they just can’t afford it or that it fell way down the priority list during the pandemic.

The State Patrol is still enforcing this. Other agencies in the state, like Seattle Police, have chosen to stop enforcing expired tabs altogether, at least as a primary offense.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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What’s with all the expired car tabs on the road?