It was a bad news day for the “Good News Guy” last week. Radio personality Alex Randall was driving in Charlotte Amalie when a police officer waived him off the road.
Randall said the officer greeted him with “You can’t drive that car!” because his plates – not his registration – was expired.
“I had no idea what the officer was talking about,” he said.
Randall said his registration was current and matched the number on the plates: AC-55, a so-called vanity plate which he thought could be used indefinitely, as long as the vehicle is properly registered. His registration sticker was clearly displayed on the windshield. But the officer told Randall he was impounding the car and instructed Randall to follow him to the Inspection Lane.
And then, Randall said, the officer got in his patrol car, turned on the siren and raced through traffic, at one point pulling into a turn lane to pass other vehicles, with Randall trying to keep up behind him.
Randall said he was forced to leave his car at the Inspection Lane and couldn’t check inside that day because the office was closed due, he believes, to a foul odor. Two days later he got a new set of license plates, which also meant he had to get a new registration since the number on the registration and the plates must match.
Randall has filed a complaint against the officer, whom he declined to name to the Source.
The plates were indeed old. Randall said his father bought them in 1996 or 1997 when there was a fundraising campaign on St. Thomas to support the America’s Cup race. When his father died and Randall sold his car, he kept the plates for their sentimental value.
In 2010, he said he registered a new car at Inspection Lane and took the America’s Cup plates with him, and asked the clerk if he could use them.
“She said ‘Yes, sure, you own those,’” Randall recalled. Since then he’s reregistered the car each year, and there’s never been a question about the age of the plates. In fact, he said, he’s been in at least three “courtesy stops” by police since then, and no one has ever questioned the age of the plates.
Rotary Clubs, schools, the Humane Society and many other organizations sell plates bearing their names or initials or symbols, so drivers can show their support for the cause. The organizations are supposed to coordinate with the Traffic Bureau. The driver not only makes a one-time contribution to the organization, he must pay an additional $30 to the Traffic Bureau for the privilege of using the vanity plate each year he registers his vehicle.
Traffic Bureau Director Jerris Browne said Tuesday he was unaware of the incident involving Randall, so couldn’t comment on it, and he was unable to say exactly when a vanity plate is too old to use.
“Some expire after different times,” he said. “We have numbered plates and we have lettered plates. I’d have to check with the manufacturer. The manufacturer sells the plate” to the organization that then sells it to a contributor. “We really don’t monitor those plates.”
So how does a driver know whether his plate is considered too old, despite the fact that his registration is current?
Browne said the organization selling the plate should tell the driver.
“There’s a lot of places selling the plates,” he said, and some may not be authorized.
“It’s too complicated. I want to change the whole process,” he said. “I have a moratorium on them right now.”