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Seeing more Minnesotans driving with expired tabs? You're not alone

Keeping tabs on the number of expired tabs in Minnesota is an inexact science, but that hasn't stopped a Star Tribune reporter from trying.

MINNEAPOLIS — When making a list of problems facing our state, and even our roads, expired license plate tabs ranks nowhere near the top, but it certainly seems to get people going.

Tim Harlow, who has written the Star Tribune's Drive column since 2010, says readers have been urging him to look into expired tabs for several months, but he had no idea how many people were interested in the topic until he published his first story on the topic on Jan. 15.

"It's probably in the top 10 [of Drive columns]," Harlow said. "I figured it would be somewhere in the middle of the road, but my email box and my voicemail box was just overflowing. Most of them just thought that people were skirting the law and being lazy and irresponsible, and then the fact that I think there's a perception out there that people aren't going to get ticketed for it."

For the record, Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services tells KARE 11 that keeping tabs of expired tabs on Minnesota roads is fluid, and virtually impossible because current tabs are only required for cars that are currently on the road. 

"They don't have a real good handle on it, although, they don't think it's like a major problem," Harlow said. "But if you're out on the road, you probably can spot one just about every time you're out on the road."

Anecdotally, he says some of the explanation might come down to shifting enforcement priorities. Enforcement of license tabs was suspended early in the pandemic, and following the police shooting of Daunte Wright, several cities began limiting stops for minor violations. Though tab violations can still be issued during other types of stops, Harlow points to court data indicating a big drop in those types of citations beginning in 2018.

"I did ask the Department of Public Safety about that and they said the State Patrol would address it," he said. "But they're busy with other, more pressing issues on the road, so it's not real high on their priority list."

But just because fewer officers appear to be writing tickets for expired tabs during traffic stops, it doesn't mean you are less likely to get busted.

Harlow: "I heard from a couple readers who said, 'I did get ticketed and they were in a parking lot run by Minneapolis Parks.'"

Erdahl: "In all honesty, I was one of those who got a ticket for it several months ago. I didn't realize until I got a parking ticket that I had expired tabs."

Though some readers have reported that they did not receive a renewal notice in the mail or via email, Harlow's most recent story reported that DVS had experienced no issues with its notification system. 

Harlow: "You and I know, email boxes can fill up with a lot of stuff, and sometimes it just gets missed."

Erdahl: "I can attest to that. I did do a search and I did find the email. I just hadn't opened it."

Harlow: "It's just kind of human nature, you know, things you need to do once a year, you just kind of forget or put it off. I mean, I think that's the real reason why we have so many. I thought DVS had a great answer, they said, 'Look at your tabs on your license plate. It tells you when it's due and you drive your car almost every day.'"

You can also check the status of your vehicle registration at www.Drive.mn.gov. Look for “Check My Vehicle Status” under the "Vehicle Services" tab, and you can enter your VIN to verify your tabs are valid and up-to-date.

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