Wrong plate numder
March 21, 2006 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Do I have to pay a parking ticket if they got the details wrong?

Yesterday evening, I parked at a meter (in Somerville, MA), a little after 5:30, knowing that the meters run until 6. For whatever reason, I decided not to put a quarter in, and knowingly took my chances.

When I was done with the evening's activities at about 11, I came back to my car to find a ticket. My own fault.
But when I looked at the ticket, the license plate number on it was wrong; off by one letter. The rest of the description of the car was correct, but the "B" in my plate number was recorded as a "D" on the ticket.
(My front-side plate is a survivor of a front-end accident of a previous car, so it's seen better days, and this probably is an easy visual mistake to make in poor lighting).

My question is:
If I don't pay this ticket, is there any way they could still track me down, even though the platenumber is wrong? Should I still pay it? Should I correct it? What's the worst that could happen?
posted by jozxyqk to Law & Government (39 answers total)
1. I don't know. Seems unlikley. (Although maybe your "D" is their "B" (or whatever).

2. Yes.

3. Yes.

4. Everlasting guilt for doing the wrong thing when you know what the right thing is all along.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:01 AM on March 21, 2006

In Massachusetts these days, if you don't pay a ticket within 30 days, the municipality often doubles the fee or adds on a penalty and also reports you to the RMV, which will put a hold on renewing your registration.

If they got your plate wrong, they might have a hard time following through on this. You might get away with it, I could not say for sure. If you're game to pay the bigger fine, you could wait for a month to see if they send you a followup citation via mail. If they don't, you've probably gotten away with it.
posted by briank at 5:02 AM on March 21, 2006

Victims routinely remember incomplete details of a car, such as: Black, Ford, SUV, license plate something like 12345H. And there are databases that'll produce all the cars that match those details. So the question isn't if they can link you, because they can, but if they will take the time to. After a long enough period, possibly with another person saying they didn't get the ticket and the car description isn't their own, in court, I'd imagine they would run that search.
posted by jwells at 5:10 AM on March 21, 2006

If you don't pay, couldn't you potentially screw up the next registration for whoever has the plate on the ticket? Sure, they could probably get out of it, since their car wouldn't likely be the same make, year, color as yours, but imagine the hassle.
posted by dmo at 5:14 AM on March 21, 2006

DMO's idea is nice, but about as likely as you being able to guess my credit card number.

Any mathmatographers want to take a crack at that?
posted by disillusioned at 5:23 AM on March 21, 2006

We ran over the meter in Boston and they wrote us up.
It was an old Land Cruiser (the kind that sorta looks like a jeep).

We called up and said if this person pays that little attention to detail how do I know it was 5:00 and not 6:00.

They said "tear it up".
posted by beccaj at 5:28 AM on March 21, 2006

Well, chances are pretty good that you could get away with it. However, you SHOULD pay it as you know you are in the wrong. And there's always a possibility that when they go to follow-up on the ticket being unpaid, they will see that the plate number listed on the ticket either doesn't exist, or is a dfferent make/model of car, which could lead to them searching for plates close to the one on the ticket, with your make/model of car. Whether or not they would bother with that is another question entirely.
posted by antifuse at 5:36 AM on March 21, 2006

Is your VIN number listed on the ticket? If not, I would take the chance of the double fine as a little experiment and then you can speak authoritatively on the subject.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:37 AM on March 21, 2006

I've had decent luck with the Somerville parking dept. waiving tickets... though they don't seem to consistently record the fact that the tickets are waived, as I just received a hearing notice for something that I was told was taken care of. It's worth a shot to take the ticket in and see if they can make it go away.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:40 AM on March 21, 2006

disillusioned: I can't remember exactly how Massachusetts gives out license plate numbers, but a lot of states (Virginia, for example) give out numbers nearly sequentionally. The current series in VA began with JAA-0001 and for the past couple of years I've watched it go up through the J's (they're up to JXA or so now). Even if there is empty space with license numbers, there's a lot less than with credit cards. (Even assuming they're randomly assigned, there's about 1.7*10^8 different license (using three letters, four numbers) compared to 10^16 different credit card numbers.

If we assume a billion credit cards and a million license plates, we have about 1 credit card for every 10 million numbers. While 1 license plate for every 170 license plate number. Give or take. So even if the plates are randomly assigned (which they won't truly be, in nearly every case (I think Massachusetts' at least uses some common prefixes/suffixes)), it's WAY more likely a one digit change will match someone else's license plate than someone else's credit card (beside the fact with a credit card you also need to know their expiry date and often their zipcode as well).

In terms of the question itself, as beccaj says, the ticket is unlikely to hold up, I would guess. But IANAL and all. Call them up or go in and say, "I got this ticket but the license plate is wrong."
posted by skynxnex at 5:42 AM on March 21, 2006

Stop in at the police department in person and explain it to them. Don't just toss it and screw someone else. Chances are the person at the counter will cancel the ticket, especially if your record is good. I would hesitate to handle it over the phone like beccaj, because if the person on the other end is lying to you for whatever reason, you could end up being screwed. Handle it in person for the best chances of getting it resolved happily.
posted by JJ86 at 5:48 AM on March 21, 2006

off topic...... but still neat


but the 4 sets of numbers in your visa together to form a 4x4 matrix. then perform gaus-jordan elimination on those numbers and you will get the identity matrix every time.
posted by I_am_jesus at 5:55 AM on March 21, 2006

OMG now you'll never get away with it because you have posted evidence of your crime on the internets!!! I'd advice you to get a lawyer immediately but of course you deserve whatever you get, you horrible criminal. Shame on you.

Speaking authoritatively -- don't pay the ticket, it's not yours. In my case, the ticket said at the top, "Citation issued to owner of car with license number ABC-123[wrong digit]". I don't own a car with that tag, so it's not my ticket.

They can't track you down, they don't know your plate number. Even if they could and they sent you a bill with a late fee, just tell them you never got the ticket and you're really sorry and it must have blown off the car and you'll gladly pay the original fine amount.

I would be more inclined to agree that you have a moral obligation to pay the ticket, if cops and city officials ever gave in when they were wrong.

Just last week, I wrote a check for a ticket that I never received, but was nevertheless billed for as dilenquent. This was the second ticket I got while parked at my home after my license plate registration stickers were stolen and I was waiting for replacements to arrive. The adjudication official I spoke with agreed that I shouldn't have to pay a fine for being the victim of a crime, but that because of "the system" there was nothing she could do, she was not allowed to cancel the ticket unless I had filed a police report on my stolen stickers (which were easily replaced for a $1 fee without requiring any police report).

If, like I'm sure everyone else does, I am going to end up paying when I am NOT in the wrong simply because of policies and computer systems that are inflexible, then I am damned sure going to use that to get out of every ticket I can as well, and you should too.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:57 AM on March 21, 2006

Speaking authoritatively -- don't pay the ticket, it's not yours.

"Not yours" in what authoritative sense? If you're advocating for the violent overthrow of the current government, I would say you're right. Otherwise, I don't get it. Even with the incredibly obfuscated plate #, the questioner recognized the license plate as being almost theirs. And the ticket was on their car. Hmm.

I get the impulse of wanting to stick it to the man, but how much is a parking ticket nowadays? A few miles north in NH, it's ~$10. Seems like a small price to pay to just forget about the whole thing and not need a shower.
posted by yerfatma at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2006

yerfatmama - just to answer your question, the ticket is $20.
Somerville is well-known for their parking ticket shenanigans. I even saw a "Welcome to Somerville" t-shirt once with a big orange ticket in the center.

I'm not trying to "stick it to the man", nor do I have any feeling of "moral obligation" to pay the ticket. I'm just trying to figure out what would happen in the hypothetical situation in which I don't pay it.
posted by jozxyqk at 6:24 AM on March 21, 2006

Remember, doing the right thing is always the better option. You knew you were risking, you've already admitted fault... so pay the fine and move on.
posted by Witty at 6:28 AM on March 21, 2006

I've had some good dealings with the folks at Somerville parking office. Though not with violations, but getting meters bagged and bought out for special events. Barbara, who works one of the windows, is particularly helpful, as is the officer who completes the bagging.

Whatever you do, try and do it in such a way that your choices don't hassle or antagonize the staff, as the office has a nice mom-and-pop feel and is easy to do business with. Might hurt your chances down the road if you want to contest a legitimate error on their part.
posted by sol at 6:30 AM on March 21, 2006

Any error in a traffic ticket is grounds for dismissal. This is an invalid ticket (doesn't match any vehicle in the database) and will be dismissed. I personally wouldn't feel too bad about it. At some point in your life you'll get dinged for something that you DIDN'T do, and that will be your payback for this.

The ticket won't be given to someone else. The database matching is on the vehicle make and model as well.

I would write in (to the address on the ticket) objecting to the ticket and challenging it. Explain that you found this ticket on your car, but your plate number is XXXXXX. You will receive a letter back saying that ticket was dismissed (often the letter is snarky, along the lines of "we know you were guilty but you're getting off this time").

You're getting off on a technicality. But the technicality serves a useful legal function. You really don't want City Hall to be guessing randomly about which car might or might not have deserved a ticket. A properly-written ticket is difficult to challenge - the system treats you as guilty unless you can prove you are innocent. So the least the system can do is make sure that you go through that wringer only if the officer has completely and accurately asserted your violation. So don't feel ethically dubious about this, is what I'm saying.
posted by jellicle at 6:33 AM on March 21, 2006

I have a friend in MA who has successfully fought tickets on this principle a number of times in a number of states.
posted by desuetude at 6:33 AM on March 21, 2006

To add a personal experience: I got ticketed once on a block with no parking signs at all. I was mad! A few days later, brand new signs were put up, forbidding parking on that block (apparently the old ones had been torn down and replaced).

So I went to city hall, looked up their records concerning the replacement of traffic signs. I was going to point out that the signs had been replaced on (date+3), which was pretty good evidence that on (date) the signs were not present. In the city's records, there was no record of the street existing. Seriously. Small street, street signs present, officer wrote the name correctly on the ticket, but the city didn't have it in the database. So there was no way I could prove that the signs had been just replaced. Argh!

But I wrote in and pointed out that the street didn't exist in their database. Included the printout from their database system. Ticket dismissed. Snarky letter received. I don't feel bad about it. City law requires at least one sign per block.

I still don't know how the city manages to put up signs on a street that doesn't exist in their database.
posted by jellicle at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2006

it's WAY more likely a one digit change will match someone else's license plate than someone else's credit card

Since ISO 7812 credit card numbers have a check digit using a suitable algorithm, it is literally impossible that a single digit change from one valid credit card number will match another valid credit card number.
posted by grouse at 6:48 AM on March 21, 2006

But the technicality serves a useful legal function.

To the population at large.
posted by yerfatma at 6:58 AM on March 21, 2006

I received a parking ticket at a BART station for parking there and not riding the train. (I did ride the train earlier that day, but went across the street to my apartment in between trips.) They wrote that my car is green, though it's actually purple. I wrote them a letter immediately explaining the incident, and they wrote back and waived the ticket. So, my answer is—based on this one experience—no.
posted by cacahuete at 7:12 AM on March 21, 2006

Call up the police station (assuming it was a cop, and not a private parking services company) and ask them what you should do. Don't give any details (name, car type, anything), but let them know that you got a ticket on your car and the license number was incorrect. In many cases, they'd rather not deal with the hassle and have you tear it up. Otherwise, just pay the $20 and move on. (After all, whomever has that actual license number will probably thank you for the lessened hassle in the future.)
posted by itchie at 7:16 AM on March 21, 2006

If you don't pay, couldn't you potentially screw up the next registration for whoever has the plate on the ticket?

The ticket won't be given to someone else. The database matching is on the vehicle make and model as well.

Yes, the ticket will be given to someone else, or they'll at least attempt to. Oddly enough, they don't even check the make/model database against the details of the citation before further pursuing a delinquent ticket.

The owner of the actual "D" plate will get a notification in the mail with the details of the ticket, with it will be instruction on how to challenge the ticket. The plate owner would do is call the DMV, note that their car registration is not the car on the ticket and/or wasn't in the area at the time of the citation, and the DMV will tell you to tear it up.

At least that's what happened in my case. They said my car was a silver SUV on Boylston Street when I was a black sedan in Waltham at the time of citation.

But to answer the question, you might have got a get out of jail free card on this one, even though you were at fault and admit as much. It's not a moving violation, and a it's a small fee, plus it shouldn't do harm to your driving record... so it's really up to you whether you want to exercise your get out of jail free card now or save the karma for later.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2006

You parked at a meter during a period that required that the meter be fed. You conciously chose not to feed the meter and got dinged for your decision. And now you want to know if you're obligated to pay for your poor decision because of what might be a "typo"? Just because the B looks like a D on your copy of the ticket doesn't mean that that's how the original looks.

Why not do the right thing and pay the $20 so you don't have to worry about this coming back to bite you down the road? In the time you spend figuring out how to get out of this and actually calling the PD or worse yet going there, you could have written the check, mailed it and had this whole situation behind you.

Pay it and be done. It's the right thing to do.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 7:33 AM on March 21, 2006

SoftSummerBreeze, I'm not sure what this means:
Just because the B looks like a D on your copy of the ticket doesn't mean that that's how the original looks.

It's a printout from their little ticket-machine. It's not handwritten, it's from a computer. There's no way that 'their copy' would have a different license plate number on it than 'my copy'.

Not using this as an argument one way or the other, just clearing up a technicality.
posted by jozxyqk at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2006

In NYC, for comparison purposes, if you take your (large stack of tickets) to a traffic court judge, the first thing he will do in appreciation of your having actually showed up, is to pull out a large magnifying glass and scrutinize the tickets one by one. Any irregularity, illegible date, missing check in a checkbox, and he will set that ticket aside. If you are nice he will usually remove all fines and penalties in my experience.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:47 AM on March 21, 2006

SoftSummerBreeze - you obviously don't live in the Boston area. Dodging parking fees is a way of life. In my 13 years in Somerville, I've easily handed over several thousand dollars for various infractions (meters, street cleaning, snow emergencies, etc.). I pay up when they nail me (eventually). But damn right I'll try and duck any fine I can. Somerville is hurting for cash these days (fallout from pissing off the governor)...it's no secret that they've gone over the top on the ticketing to raise cash. Sometimes they get you fair & square, other times you can sidestep the hit. It all comes out even in the end, I think.

Don't pay it. Take it as a warning - they *love* cruising the meters just before they become free. Oldest trick in the book!
posted by Banky_Edwards at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

If your plate is in such a state that this confusion is possible, not paying the ticket could ensue some trouble.

Intentionally making your plate hard to read is something very bad (possibly a crime in some place). In your case, you didn't, but, if you do take advantage of the situation (such as getting off a ticket), it might not look good. In the worst case this could be seen as proof that you did it on purpose.

So if this paranoid guy here were in your place, he'd pay the ticket, point out the mistake, and replace his plates.
posted by qvantamon at 8:07 AM on March 21, 2006

How would they get your address and ID if they haven't got your plate number right? We have a thing called the DVLA here in the UK, which contains the names and addresses of the owner of every vehicle in the country. I'm sure the US must have something similar?

Surely the only way they could track you down is by getting the cops to stop every car that matches your description...? I'm sure they wouldn't bother with that for a measley little parking fine.
posted by derbs at 8:11 AM on March 21, 2006

We ran over the meter in Boston and they wrote us up.
It was an old Land Cruiser (the kind that sorta looks like a jeep).

We called up and said if this person pays that little attention to detail how do I know it was 5:00 and not 6:00.

They said "tear it up".

posted by beccaj

Sometimes, I miss seeing things that are right there, in plain sight, in a comment or post. Maybe I'm missing the part of this comment that tells where the ticket-writer screwed up. That part would help me make sense of the comment.

I think they will apply jozxyqk's ticket to whoever owns that plate number. I once got a phone call from the Cambridge MA police department, saying my car had damaged someone else's, and I should contact that person to arrange to compensate them. Called the person. She said, "I told the cops they wrote down the wrong plate number." Or maybe they are more thorough when it's them getting the money.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2006

Addendum: since so many people seem concerned about the karmic implications of letting some other sucker get the notice about the ticket, you could easily swing by the Traffic & Parking office and show them the error of their ways. Odds are good they will dismiss it then and there. (Thanks to the step-up in enforcement, T&P have been pretty good about dismissing even legitimate tickets. Last year I got dinged for both cars having expired permits - they'd been expired for all of five hours when I got ticketed. Clearly a sweep for people like me who'd forgotten it was the first of the month. Both were dismissed, along with a meter violation I didn't even ask about!)

You don't even have to get into the fact that you were in violation. Just say "I found this ticket on my car, but that's not my plate number." Boom. Done. Karma intact, wallet unmolested. If you care. ;)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2006

The technicality thing is spot on; I paid parkingtickets.com to write a letter for me and it was all technicalities — this field was not filled in; this letter/number is illegible; stuff like that. People's experience here corroborates the utility of that, so put together a letter yourself, send it off and feel a little better about life.

Though personally I would enjoy paying a $20 ticket. It's so frickin' cheap!
posted by drewbeck at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2006

Well then, I'm fining you $20. Send it to me post-haste.
posted by yerfatma at 2:10 PM on March 21, 2006

You say you took your chances. You lost. You pay.

Seriously, how is this even a question? You knew the rules, you deliberately broke them, welcome to the consequences. If you have some moral objection to the whole idea of parking tickets, then by all means get a lawyer, and challenge on some Constitutional basis or whatever.

I somehow doubt, however, that is the case. Suck it up and pay the damn ticket.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:15 PM on March 21, 2006

If you aren't strapped for cash, pay it... it makes for nicer roads in my city, and employs meter maids who nail suckers like you.

In a similar incident in Somerville, I rec'd the following ticket made out to the souvenir plate at the front of my car!
posted by forager at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2006

I_am_jesus: but the 4 sets of numbers in your visa together to form a 4x4 matrix. then perform gaus-jordan elimination on those numbers and you will get the identity matrix every time.

Try that with any 16 randomly generated digits.
posted by dsword at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2006

I agree with Banky_Edwards. Either don't pay it or walk into the parking office and say they put the wrong plate number on a ticket on your car. See what happens, it's worth a shot.

Ive paid so much in Somerville parking tickets, I feel like I own part of the city, so I'm all for trying not to pay it. They made a mistake.

If you go into the Parking Office in Davis, just be really polite. As sol said, it has a total mom and pop feel. Good luck.
posted by jdl at 5:35 AM on January 18, 2007

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