Personalized plates primer – San Diego Union

The special-plates program turned 40 this year

Originally published January 19, 2011 at 2:49 p.m., updated December 20, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

QUESTION: I just bought my husband a new motorcycle and I want to personalize its license plate. Because he served in Iraq, I want to get the “memorial” special interest plate. How do I go about requesting a personalized plate and do the proceeds go to a special cause?

ANSWER: Did you know the Personalized License Plate Program just turned 40 this year? Additional fees are required for acquiring these types of plates, a portion of which goes toward whichever program the selected plate commemorates, such as Arts, Kids, Coastal, Lake Tahoe, and, of course, supporting veteran’s organizations. A portion of the fee also goes toward fighting pollution caused by motor vehicles. To date, the California specialty plate program has generated approximately $630 million for these specialty groups.

To purchase your personalized plates go to this DMV site: You’ll be able to browse the DMV’s selection of personalized and special interest license plates. In a separate window, you will also have the ability to see what your specialized configuration will look like or if it already exists.

What are the rules for bicyclists? I’m from New York and just moved to California for college, and plan on using a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation.

Welcome to the Golden State! First off, be sure to protect yourself with a helmet. It is not mandatory for those over 18 years of age, but is highly encouraged.

Here are some safety tips:

• You must obey traffic signs and signals

• Ride in the same direction as traffic so you are more visible to drivers

• Stay in the right lane unless the right lane is too narrow then take the center traffic lane

• To make left turns you may use the crosswalk and cross as pedestrians cross or you can change lanes when safe to do so

• Beware of parked cars- stay far enough away to avoid being hit by an opening door

• Communicate your intentions

For more information about bicycle laws and safety, go here:

While I’m driving, I see more and more motorcycles “lane splitting” between cars, as if they (the motorcyclists) are making an individual lane to travel in. The motorcyclists even use the bike lane as a passing lane. Why are they allowed to maneuver in and out of traffic like that?

California does not have a law prohibiting this maneuver. Motorcyclists believe that lane sharing is safe and provides them an added “safety net” when confronted with a possible collision, by weaving between two vehicles. Motorcyclists can be cited for traffic violations for making unsafe maneuvers when lane sharing such as improper lane change, unsafe speed, or passing in a bike lane. Motorcyclists should use caution and maintain safe riding practices when lane sharing.


QUESTION; I’m a teen driver who recently acquired a learner’s permit after passing the written test. My driving instructor told me that my permit had been “activated” after I took a two-hour lesson with him, and that now, I can drive if my parents are in the vehicle with me. My question is: can anyone else accompany me?

ANSWER: As long as you have a licensed driver over the age of 25 in the vehicle with you, there are no restrictions on the other passengers in the vehicle. The DMV website has a complete section devoted to teen drivers with information on permits and driver licenses, tips on passing the drive test, a sample of the written and more. Go to

I purchased a “sports-themed” plate from a local gift shop. Am I allowed to display it on my vehicle and remove the front license plate issued by DMV?

No, per California Vehicle Code Section 5200 (a), if two plates are issued as in the case of autos and most trucks (big rigs are allowed to display one plate), they must both be attached, one in the front and one in the rear of the vehicle. If the plate bracket is missing, you should contact the vehicle dealer that sold you the vehicle for assistance. If two plates are not attached as required, you could be subject to citation by law enforcement.

I just purchased a boat and I want to be as prepared as possible. Who should I contact in case of an emergency and what is the best way to do so?

While we certainly hope you have nothing but good experiences on your boat, it is always good to be prepared. In the event of an emergency, you would need to transmit the International Distress Call on Channel 16 on the boat’s radio system. The distress call would be “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is (state your boat’s call sign three times).” After they have responded, you will then need to provide them with the following information:

  1. Your vessel’s call letters and name
  2. Your vessel’s position in latitude/longitude or true bearing and distance in nautical miles from a widely known geographical point
  3. What is wrong
  4. Kind of assistance desired
  5. Number of persons aboard and the condition of any injured
  6. Present seaworthiness of your vessel
  7. Description of your vessel
  8. Your listening frequency and schedule

For more information about California Boating Laws, please visit


QUESTION: I’ve been told that if I’m ever pulled over after I’ve been drinking I can refuse the breathalyzer test. Am I allowed to do so without any consequences?

ANSWER: You can refuse the breathalyzer test, but there are consequences when a driver suspected of driving under the influence refuses a breathalyzer test. When you were issued your driver license, you agreed to consent to a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic or drug content of your blood when requested to do so by a peace officer. If you refuse to submit to the test, your license can be revoked for a year.

Learn more about your rights when pulled over for driving under the influence, at Select the Drive Crazy link, then what is the PAS test?

Because of the high price of gas I have been using more public transportation than before. And because I need to save more money I thought of declaring my car as non-operational, but I just paid the registration renewal three months ago. If I file now, do I have to wait a full year to re-license it? If I re-license it in the middle of the registration period, can I pay for just the months left in that period or do I have to pay the full year?

A Planned Non-Operational does not change the expiration date on a vehicle. When the expiration date is established it never changes. For example, if your vehicle’s registration expires on Jan. 1, 2011, and you file a PNO, the fees you owe to renew the vehicle’s registration depends on when you apply for renewal. If you apply for renewal any time before Jan. 1, 2011, you will pay the full 2010 registration fees. The vehicle registration fee is the same for one day or 365 days of use. If you do not renew until after Jan. 1, you would owe nothing for the 2010 registration period.

Commercial vehicles are handled differently. There are several registration options and each will have different renewal fees assessed. The registration renewal fees on commercial vehicles may be prorated for partial year registration.

My daughter is in the process of obtaining her permit and has been asking me to teach her how to drive. Is she required to have insurance even if I only allow her to practice driving in residential areas?

Some insurance carriers provide automatic coverage for minor dependents when operating on an instruction permit. Check with your insurance carrier for specific policy coverage details. For more information about rules and regulations while driving with a provisional permit, go to .


QUESTION: I am a little confused about the Friday closures of DMV offices. My license is up for renewal in a couple of months and because I have already renewed by mail two times, I believe this time I would have to go in person. Can you please explain to me what Fridays are the offices closed?

ANSWER: You would need to go in person to renew your license, but the good news is that as of Oct. 29, 2010, DMV field offices are open Monday through Friday. Business hours will continue to be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays. Be sure to make an appointment for that driver license renewal.

I recently sent in my registration for my 1979 VW bug, but I was told that to get it to pass the required smog test, it will cost me over $600. I only drive this car about 500 miles a year so it doesn’t make sense to invest that much but I don’t want to sell the car. Please advise me on how to reverse the registration so that I may get my money back and to declare it inoperable until I decide what to do with it.

If the vehicle was used after the expiration date, it is too late to reverse the registration. If the vehicle has not been used since the expiration date, go to and print out a Planned Non-Operation Certification Form, Reg. 102. After completion, submit it along with the paperwork previously submitted to:


CCS Mail Station H165

P.O. Box 932345

Sacramento, CA 94232-3450

I was passing a CalTrans truck parked on the side of the road with its amber lights flashing and received a citation. Because this vehicle is not a police car or an ambulance, can you tell me why I was cited?

Drivers are required to move over and slow down when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle or tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, or a stationary, marked Department of Transportation vehicle that is displaying flashing amber warning lights when they are stopped on the side of a state highway or freeway with their emergency lights or flashing amber light on. The law is designed to reduce the deaths of police officers, tow truck drivers, paramedics, CalTrans employees and other emergency personnel who are performing public service.

QUESTION: My son saw a series of videos at school that showed the most common reasons why people fail the drive test. She said the DMV produced them. Are they available online?

ANSWER: Yes – the DMV’s YouTube Channel features several video “vignettes” that not only show the top 10 reasons why students fail the drive test, but also several educational videos on all aspects of driving. View the vids here: DMV YouTube Channel .

What is the DMV’s policy for headgear when the license photo is taken?

The department prefers the removal of headgear, unless it is part of your normal identification, or is worn because of religious beliefs. In those instances, headgear is permissible as long as the individual’s face is visible. Generally, headgear, such as a baseball hat, can obstruct the eyes, nose, mouth or cause dark shadows. This can result in unacceptable photographs and unnecessary return trips to our field offices.

My husband and I have started to take daily walks around our neighborhood for exercise. We live in an area with heavy traffic and want to know if there are any rules we should keep in mind as pedestrians.

One out of every six traffic fatalities is a pedestrian, so it is important for you to be informed. The 2009 California Driver Handbook offers these tips to pedestrians:

• Never “jaywalk,” or cross a street between intersections. Always cross at a crosswalk.

• Do not suddenly leave a curb or other safe place and walk or run into the path of a vehicle close enough to be a danger to you.

• If there is no sidewalk, walk in the direction that faces the oncoming traffic

• When a signal first changes to green or “WALK” for you, look left, right, and then left again and yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection before the signal changed.

• At night, make yourself more visible by wearing white clothing and retro-reflective materials or carrying a flashlight.

You can view the California Driver Handbook online at Under the Publications tab, click Driver Handbook.

QUESTION: What is a “Lemon Law Buyback Vehicle” and how will I know that a vehicle was a “lemon”?

ANSWER: This type of vehicle has been reacquired by a vehicle manufacturer because it had one or more specified warranty defects. Prior to resale, the vehicle is registered in the manufacturer’s name. You will know the vehicle is a “lemon” if there is a decal affixed to the:

• Left door frame, or

• Frame of the major entry into the vehicle such as the front right door frame of a motorhome, or

• Left side of a vehicle without doors, such as a motorcycle

The vehicle’s Certificate of Title and Registration Certificate will also identify it as a “Lemon Law Buyback” or ask the dealer/seller; who are required by law to disclose this information.

Details: .

The last time I had to attend traffic school, I had trouble finding a school that would be accepted by the DMV. Is there a list on the DMV website, or better yet, is there an online tool to find a school in my area?

A list of schools can be found at The schools are listed by the county and includes schools with foreign-language instruction.

Can a photo receipt be used as a form of identification? It’s clear that the DMV gave it to me.

A photo receipt is by no means a valid form of identification. In May 1999, the DMV started issuing photo receipts as part of a new driver license and identification card photo process. The photo receipt is issued to a customer who needs additional testing in a DMV office. It is used to identify the customer while he/she is in the field office and an application is in progress. The photo receipt states “Not a Verified Identification” on the form.

For more information on photo receipts and their use and on how to get a valid California driver license, go to and click on Driver License, followed by Frequently Asked Questions.