Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Red registration sticker: 2005 This year’s car registration: done. And it’s a lot easier than renewing a UK car tax disc used to be. No trip to the Post Office with paperwork in hand.

There’s no MOT test here, but you do need proof of insurance and, for older cars, of a recent smog check. But nowadays, these are supplied electronically to DMV by insurers and smog check stations, which means you can renew by mail, phone, or online with no need to queue at the DMV office.

Although wouldn’t you know it: now that I’ve left the UK, the DVLA’s made renewing car tax online equally easy.

A few more wide-eyed-foreigner observations:

  • Insurers and state DMVs use the VIN to identify the car, not the registration number as the UK does. This makes sense: the VIN is supposedly unique, while each state has its own numbering scheme for license plates.
  • However, California license plates carry more than just the number: the front plate also carries stickers showing the month and year the registration expires. On renewal, you get a sticker for the next year; I assume the month sticker is issued on first registration.
  • The US is far stricter on carrying documentation than the UK: no option here to produce your drivers licence at a police station, you have to have it with you. And more: you also need to be able to show proof of registration and of insurance. Look in the glovebox of most American cars, and you’ll find these documents.
And one fairly shocking statistic: in 1994, only 58% of American motorists used seat belts. That’s improved a lot in the following ten years, to 2004’s figure of 80%, but: 1 in 5 still don’t buckle up?

California, which introduced a primary seat belt law — which allows a driver to be ticketed simply for being unbelted — in 1993, does better, with a 90% usage rate. I haven’t been able to find statistics for the entire UK, but this seems fairly consistent with Northern Ireland’s measured 89% overall seat belt usage rate.

Clunk click.


Here in NSW, the situation re: seatbelts is slightly ridiculous.

A driver can be fined if an adult passenger isn't wearing a seatbelt.

Granted, not wearing a seatbelt is a stupid thing to do. Granted, the driver has to bear some responsibility for the safety of those who can't be responsible for themselves - children etc.

But fining the driver because another fully competent adult freely chose not to wear a seatbelt?

It's the kind of thing you'd assume would only happen in America..
That does indeed seem to be the case in California law, although the wording in the California Drivers Handbook suggests it’s not rigorously enforced:

You may not operate your vehicle unless you and all your passengers 16 years of age or over, or who weigh 60 lbs. or more, are wearing seat belts. If seat belts are not worn, you may be given a traffic ticket. Also, the driver will be given the ticket if a passenger, younger than 16, is not wearing his/her seat belt.

UK law is more rational, making adult passengers responsible for themselves; the relevant Highway Code rule makes it clear.

And reading these side-by-side makes me realise again: in terms of clarity, the Drivers Handbook is not a patch on the Highway Code.