According to Ray Martinez, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), the state’s system of issuing temporary vehicle tags to car buyers using inventoried paper documents was overdue for an upgrade.

”We had a problem,” Martinez said, describing a manual process that had the MVC checking out temporary vehicle tags to the state’s car dealerships. Dealers were required to store the physical documents on the premises and fill out necessary information by hand each time a sale was made.

In peak months, as many as 80,000 temporary vehicle tags are issued in New Jersey. The tags were placed inside a car’s rear window to protect them from the weather. The process created several significant challenges. Information on the tags could be changed; it was difficult for law enforcement to read the details in the event of a traffic stop; and most importantly, there was no way for police to verify the tag’s data.

In addition, the onus was on car dealerships to accurately track the temporary tags they had been issued. MVC auditors finding discrepancies in the records could fine dealerships for any errors.

Over the course of a year, the MVC worked with its e-government partner, NIC, to update the process and address some of these issues. Feedback was gathered from public- and private-sector stakeholders, including state and local law enforcement, tolling authorities and New Jersey’s 2,000 car dealerships.

Working with state IT officials, they developed an electronic system that allows dealers to enter information and print out a temporary vehicle registration at the time the car is sold. Dealers create secure accounts in order for their staff to access the system. The tag, printed on weather-resistant paper, becomes a live plate immediately. All of the data on the tag, designed to be clearly legible, is online and traceable for law enforcement.

”The tag is unique to that vehicle, unique to that date and point of sale,” Martinez explained, “so police and the MVC know exactly who issued that plate and when it was issued.”

First launched in March in a ceremony featuring officials from the MVC, law enforcement and the car dealership community, the electronic system became mandatory in July 2012.

Dealers appreciate that the streamlined process saves them a trip to an MVC office to secure their batch of temporary tags. No specialized equipment is needed to participate, as the program is web-based and tags can be printed on a standard laser printer.

While the electronic system benefits motor vehicle officials and car dealerships, law enforcement agencies stand to benefit the most, Martinez said.

”We're confident now that when a police officer or a tolling authority needs to rely on that temporary tag, it is clearly legible … even before they get out of their cruiser. That is light years ahead of where we were before,” he said.

New Jersey officials report that the MVC is now in the midst of a major, multi-year project to upgrade their back-end computer systems. When that upgrade is complete, they anticipate that the temporary vehicle tag system information should feed into their new system. That integration, they believe, will benefit New Jersey car-buyers in part by speeding the processing time of permanent vehicle tags. 

Photo: New Jersey officials announced the electronic temporary vehicle tag system in March 2012. Courtesy of the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission.

Noelle Knell, Assistant Web Editor Noelle Knell  |  Managing Editor

Government Technology managing editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience, writing about public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she graduated from the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and @GovTechNoelle on Twitter.