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Electronic Vehicle Registration Now Allowed in New Jersey

Drivers in the Garden State will now be able to present digital vehicle registration during traffic stops as part of a program launched by the Motor Vehicle Commission late last week.

(TNS) — New Jersey drivers now no longer have to search their vehicle to find their paper motor vehicle registration during traffic stops. The state Motor Vehicle Commission started issuing electronic registrations on Friday that can be displayed on a smartphone or other electronic device.

The change implements legislation signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in November 2021 to offer drivers a digital proof their vehicle is registered. Under the law, drivers can still request a paper registration.

The new law would also spare drivers from a $150 fine if issued a summons for failure to have the document in their possession and show it during a police road stop as long as they can produce a digital or paper copy.

“The NJMVC is pleased to offer an electronic proof of vehicle registration that can be displayed on a smartphone or another electronic device,” Latrecia Littles-Floyd, acting MVC chief administrator, said in a statement. “Paper registrations will still be issued and recognized as valid, but they are no longer the only option for drivers when they need to provide proof of registration.”

Technically, the change was made on March 24. When customers complete an online renewal or duplicate registration transaction with the MVC, the vehicle registration is now emailed to the customer as a PDF file.

“The emailed PDF file is considered the proof of registration,” said William Connolly, an MVC spokesman. “Law enforcement can access the registration information on that document in the card form in the upper right corner.”

That document is a valid registration, by law, which can be printed out, saved, or downloaded for display as an electronic image on a smartphone, tablet or computer. The PDF can be saved and used for display on an electronic device, including using any wallet software available to the user, Connolly said.

The NJMVC will continue to mail a paper vehicle registration card to the motorist’s address after the registration transaction is completed.

Both the digital and paper registration are considered a valid proof of registration when requested by police, the courts or other entities. Paper registrations are not going away.

“There is no immediate plan to phase out paper hard copies completely,” Connolly said.

After the law was passed, readers raised questions about the legal ramifications of handing an “unlocked” phone or other device to police.

A Rutgers University law professor said the law was written in such a way to safeguard motorists and avoid a challenge in the state Supreme Court.

“It’s not consent to search your phone,” Professor Robert F. Williams, director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers, said in an interview in 2021. “That is the important one sentence that will keep it from going to the Supreme Court. The legislature foresaw the problem.”

New Jersey’s law is modeled after similar measures enacted in 2017 in Michigan and 2019 in Tennessee which say clearly state that a driver is not giving consent to allow the entire phone to be searched.

Michigan’s law also allows drivers to present a digital photograph of their current registration. So does New Jersey’s law.

The New Jersey bill also provides police and judges with protection against claims they damaged the phone or tablet while checking the registration.

The recent change also makes it easier for drivers of roughly 820,000 leased vehicles by requiring registration renewal applications are sent directly to lessees of leased vehicles, instead of the lessor or vehicle owner.

The leased vehicle registration renewal changes are effective beginning with registrations expiring in April 2023. Eligibility is limited to vehicles with auto passenger registration codes 7, 8 and 15.

The MVC also officially transitioned four agencies in Cardiff, Newton, Salem, and Washington to hybrid agencies that can service both in-person license and vehicle transactions. That changes undoes some of the COVID-19 pandemic changes that designated agencies as licensing or vehicle centers.

The change announced in December answers complaints by state legislators from suburban and rural areas that the separate licensing and vehicle centers result in long drives for constituents to get to an agency. Some said their constituents faced a 45 minute to one hour drive each way to an agency.

While the hybrid agencies have been formally transitioned as of Monday, they have been serving customers as part of a soft rollout for several weeks, Connolly said. The Rio Grande agency was the pilot hybrid facility that launched July 2021, he said.

“Shifting another four agencies to hybrid allows us to better serve all our customers and address some operational concerns related to customer demand and differences in population density,” Littles-Floyd said in a statement. “These hybrid agencies were strategically chosen. We will continue to monitor our operations, and introduce any further changes, if warranted, at an appropriate time.”

About 80% of all MVC transactions can be done online at the website.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.