What’s up with all the cars without license plates in Lansing?

New policies stop Lansing cops from pulling over plateless cars

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An increasing number of vehicles without license plates have been spotted cruising the streets of Greater Lansing — and across Michigan — in recent months. You’ve noticed. We’ve noticed.

So what’s the deal? And isn’t that illegal?

Secretary of State offices are still not open as normal to the general public amid pandemic-related safety precautions. Although all 131 branch locations reopened on June 1, they’re still only operating on an appointment-only basis. As of today, the next appointments available at branches in Lansing and Okemos are in December, according to the state website.

A limited number of next-day appointments become available at 8 a.m. daily but book quickly.

And that means those looking for fresh license plates on newly purchased vehicles — whether new or used — are forced to either just park their new cars or drive around without plates.

In Michigan, drivers don’t need license plates to drive a newly purchased vehicle directly home within three days of purchase as long as they carry the title and proof of insurance with them.

An order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that was renewed last month formally extends the deadline on all drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations until at least Sept. 30. Cops, accordingly, have been lenient with those legal technicalities given the ongoing licensing delays.

And in Lansing, the cops couldn’t pull you over for a plateless car even if they wanted to do it. 

Police Chief Daryl Green rolled out some forward-thinking policies in July that mandate officers only pull over drivers for traffic violations related to public safety and cease all traffic stops for things like cracked windshields, loud exhaust, cracked tail lights and tinted windshields.

Included on the list of violations unrelated to public safety are cars without license plates, a spokesman confirmed today. The idea behind the policy, Green has said, is to limit unnecessary police contact and curb the disproportionate impact that enforcement has on people of color.

Still, if local cops find another reason to stop a plateless vehicle — like speeding — then drivers are expected to show they’re making an effort to obtain a plate as well as have valid insurance and physical documentation of the vehicle's purchase, a Police Department spokesman added.

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