Proof of Registration No Longer Needed When Driving in Utah

“License, registration, and insurance please;” is the greeting often heard when being pulled over, yet now that phrase will need to be adjusted as proof of registration is no longer needed when driving in Utah.

Changes to Utah law

Photo by: Fairfax County

While registering a vehicle is still a requirement along with having a license and current insurance, Utah lawmakers have decided to be more lenient by no longer enforcing residents to carry the actual proof of registration in their vehicle. Utah Code 41-1a-214 now states: “For the convenience of a peace officer or any officer or employee of the division, the owner or operator of a vehicle is encouraged to carry the registration card in the vehicle for which the registration card was issued and display the registration card upon request.” While this wording still asks residents to carry their registration in their vehicle, wording such as “must” or “shall” have now been replaced with “[for] convenience” and “encouraged”.

Not needed anyway

Years ago when technology was in its infancy, having proof of registration made it easier for officers to ensure a vehicle being driven was properly registered by a licensed driver. Nowadays, law enforcement does not need to call in plates to check registration as they have laptops in their vehicle for quick access to registration database. Many police cruisers are also equipped with license-plate scanners that further reduce the need for any registration information to be carried by drivers.

Inconvenience and concern

Photo by: Becky Stern

Not only was their no need for proof of registration, representatives in Utah also raised concerns that carrying registration papers in a vehicle at all times may be inconvenient while also being cause of concern for identity theft. Unlike a driver’s license and insurance card that can be tucked safely inside a wallet, registration papers are typically on full letter sized paper, making it unpractical for many to carry with them away from their vehicle.

Protecting private information

Registration papers not only contain a person’s name and physical address, it also includes a vehicles VIN number and the registrant’s signature. When a vehicle break-in occurs, it is not uncommon to find this treasure of personal information taken along with other items of value. Utah now gives residents the option of whether or not to keep proof of registration in their vehicle, and no longer requires such document to be signed. Driving without proof of registration was previously an infraction and is now a choice. For more information on this and other previously changed laws, see the 2018 General Session of the 62nd Legislature.

Pulled Over without Reasonable Suspicion of a Crime

It’s a common misconception that someone will not be pulled over by police unless they give law enforcement reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation or crime is or has been committed.

Traffic stop

Reasonable Suspicion

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According to the Prosecution Manual listed by the State of Utah, “in order to stop a motor vehicle, an officer must have [reasonable suspicion] that a public offense is occurring or has occurred. There are many legitimate reasons for such a stop which include, but are not limited to suspicious activity, traffic violations, and equipment violations.” Some of the most common reasons that a driver in Utah may be pulled over include:

• Speeding;
• Driving too slow;
• Failure to signal lane change;
• Broken headlights, brake lights, or other equipment issues;
• Distracted driving (phone, food, etc);
• Aggressive/hazardous driving;
• Following too close;
• Seat belt violations;
• Expired tags; or
• Suspicious behavior such as visible drug or alcohol use.

Drivers will usually avoid being pulled over as long as they refrain from giving law enforcement one of the above reasons to execute a traffic stop. There are some instances however when law enforcement does not need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle.

Reasonable suspicion not needed

Section 6.4 of the State of Utah’s Prosecution Manual states that “there are times and situations when reasonable suspicion is not necessary for an officer to approach a vehicle or begin an investigation. ( . . . ).” One of the examples given is:

• If an officer happens upon a vehicle that is already stopped or disabled.

Other possible loopholes around an officer having reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle include:

• During an Amber Alert when police are permitted to pull over all vehicle in the area of the Amber Alert to search for a missing child;
• If the vehicle matches the description of another that was used in a crime or that was involved in an accident; or
• If an officer misunderstands a law but had reasonable suspicion based on their faulty interpretation of said law. (Heien v. North Carolina)

Legal counsel

Photo by: Keith Allison

Criminal charges not related to traffic violations may result if a driver is pulled over in Utah. These charges can stem from behavior or crimes that may have gone unnoticed had the traffic stop not taken place such as if the driver was in possession of drugs, was driving under the influence, or had warrants out for their arrest. Any drivers in Utah who are facing criminal charges following a questionable traffic stop are encouraged to speak to a qualified defense attorney to ensure that their constitutional rights have not been violated.