The D.C. vanity tags read BBL, Barbara B. Luchs' initials. Her husband gave them to her 15 years ago, as a birthday present. Ever since, Barbara has displayed them on her various cars, and each year she has added a new registration sticker, as the law requires.
But Barbara hasn't stacked the stickers one on top of the rest. She began in the upper right hand corner in 1970. She put 1971's below that, 1972's below that, and so on, down the right side of the plate, all across the bottom, then around the corner and up the left side. And she thought nothing of it.
That changed in a big way on March 18 -- the day Barbara got a $50 ticket for "obstruction of tags." A D.C. cop left Barbara that "greeting" even though her current sticker was clearly visible, and even though she had made sure that none of her 17 stickers obscured BBL in the slightest.
Barbara decided to fight the ticket. She appeared before a hearing examiner at the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication. The examiner reduced Barbara's fine from $50 to $20. But the examiner wouldn't dismiss the charges.
Why not appeal that decision? A nice idea, but that would cost ten more bucks. Why not trade in the old BBLs for a new set? Another nice idea -- which would cost another ten bucks.
So, $20 poorer and much wiser, Barbara is left with no choice but to take her lumps. As a result, she worries that many owners of similarly stickered D.C. vanity plates are unaware that they're violating a law. She also wonders why a cop would ticket her for obstruction when she had gone out of her way not to obstruct.
According to Frankie Cox, assistant public information officer at the D.C. Department of Public Works, "People place stickers all over the place. They even put things on their plates like, 'I love tennis' . . . .The police say there are so many stickers [on tags like Barbara's] that you can't properly read the license numbers. Sevens can look like ones and fives can look like eights."
Well, that's all true -- except when it isn't. And in the case of BBL, it isn't.
Barbara hadn't plastered her stickers all over the face of her plate. It was not a question of BBL looking like 33L, or BBI. Barbara simply ran afoul of a cop who was a stickler for stickers. They weren't all stuck in one place, and he decided that was all he needed to know.
Which is absolutely nuts.
D.C. citizens threaten each other with knives every day, and walk away without paying fines. D.C. apartment building owners refuse to provide heat to dozens of tenants every winter, and they're let off without fines.
But a woman puts 17 stickers in a conga line instead of a heap, and they zing her for $20. What a world!
As a matter of technical fact, the officer who wrote Barbara's ticket was correct. However, the moral of the story is that the technical facts need changing. The City Council should amend the sticker regulation. As now written, it doesn't define "obstruction." As Barbara's case makes clear, it should.