In a significant move to combat vehicular crimes and ensure road safety, Texas has decided to eliminate temporary license plates, commonly known as “temp tags.” These paper versions of genuine plates have become a favored tool of unscrupulous car dealers and criminals across the country, enabling them to evade speed cameras, engage in illegal activities, and drive without insurance or a valid driver’s license.
Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law on Tuesday, initiating a phased elimination of temporary license plates by July 2025. This measure comes as a welcome relief for law enforcement agencies nationwide, particularly in New York City, where illegally obtained temp tags have been sold on a thriving black market. Authorities in the city have been grappling with the aftermath of crimes committed by individuals using fraudulent temp tags, only taking action once incidents have occurred, such as accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities.
Furthermore, the widespread use of counterfeit temp tags has led to a significant number of drivers evading New York City’s speed and red-light camera enforcement program. This not only affects the city’s revenue but also compromises road safety, creating hazardous conditions for motorists and pedestrians alike.
Streetsblog, an influential news outlet focused on transportation issues, conducted a thorough six-month investigation into this fraudulent practice. Their findings shed light on the mechanics of the scam, which involve either legitimate used car dealers exploiting a state’s electronic plate system to issue real tags under false pretenses or unscrupulous individuals producing counterfeit temp tags that deceive local authorities.
As a result of this investigation, several states, including New Jersey and Georgia, have implemented changes to address the vulnerabilities in their motor vehicle regulations. Texas, with its lax regulations that contributed to the exploitation of temporary license plates, now joins this growing list of states taking action.
The issues surrounding temporary license plates in Texas extend beyond the realm of traffic enforcement. The bill states that the current paper-based temporary license plate system has allowed criminals to easily conceal their vehicles, evade prosecution, and exacerbate public safety concerns. These fraudulent plates have also enabled drug cartels and human smugglers to evade law enforcement, contributing to the growth of a black market industry worth over $200 million in Texas alone.
Although Texas does not employ speed cameras, the primary concern for local authorities has been the ability of reckless or criminal drivers to render their vehicles virtually untraceable. Daniel Scesney, the police chief of Grand Prairie and a prominent advocate for the Texas reform, highlighted the ease with which fake Texas paper tags can be produced, stating that anyone with a computer and printer at home can create one.
This issue took a personal toll on Chief Scesney after Officer Brandon Tsai lost his life in November while pursuing a vehicle with a counterfeit license plate. The driver was wanted on warrants in multiple jurisdictions, including Bedford, DeSoto, Grand Prairie, and Waxahachie.
The consequences extend beyond safety concerns. Ghost car owners who possess counterfeit plates also evade paying sales taxes during vehicle purchases, resulting in significant revenue losses for local authorities.
Federal courts have also intervened in cracking down on fraudulent dealers utilizing Texas license plates. In a recent case, a Houston woman was found guilty of conspiring to buy and sell thousands of fraudulent temporary buyer tags. This conviction could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine. The case was connected to an earlier investigation involving Octavian Ocasio, dubbed the “Used Car King of New York,” who pleaded guilty in 2022.
The revelations about the abuse of Texas’ license plate system prompted significant action within the Lone Star State. In 2022, the head of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles resigned amid mounting pressure to address the glaring vulnerabilities that allowed criminals to operate with relative impunity.