The Setup: We switched cars tonight, and a police officer pulled Laura over, giving her a ticket for my out-of-date vehicle registration sticker. They will waive the ticket when we show that we registered on time, but still charge a $20 dismissal fee and require a visit to the courthouse.
Disclaimer: I registered on time, but have not changed the car's sticker. I failed to meet the legal requirement. My bad, and Laura's stuck dealing with it. This annoys me, which might influence my analysis.
The Problem: We will pay $20 for a registration violation that never happened. The ticket has a 20-day grace period to register your vehicle, so I assume everyone who gets this ticket pays only $20. That can't make up the cost of the officer's time in delivering the ticket, and the courthouse's receipt and processing of the dismissal fee, so everyone loses financially. Even more costly is (or should be) the officer's lost time to investigate or prevent crimes THAT ACTUALLY HARM ANYONE IN ANY WAY!!! (OK, got that off my chest.)
Registration is not the problem - we should charge car-related expenses to car owners and verify insurance. But current enforcement requires a police officer to look at stickers on windshields. Let me repeat: police officers are spending time looking at stickers on windshields. And each pullover for a bad sticker loses money. Isn't this a problem in every way?
The Solution: A server somewhere already sends the registration bill based on vehicle titles. Assuming a server also records payments, the system can identify delinquent drivers, and take direct action against them without distracting police officers. Require offenders to pay the registration plus a significant late fee before purchasing insurance, paying their property tax, paying fines related to subsequent arrests/tickets, or transferring the car's title. Won't this collect the fees at much less cost (in dollars and public safety) than having police officers spend time looking at stickers? And we haven't even considered the cost of producing and mailing stickers.
Some people might think the system would cost more. Not at all - my employer, S3 Technologies, already checks every doctor applying for Medicaid reimbursement in Texas for fraud (you can check your doctor's history at http://doctors.s3.com/), and analyzes every trade executed in the major stock exchanges. Matching up drivers, payments, and collection opportunities would be right up our alley. Regardless of who builds the solution, let's agree that our police officers' time would be better spent on actual crime than bureaucratic negligence, and find a better answer.