Get a traffic or parking ticket and it will probably bother you for the rest of the day. Anecdotally, these punishments are more frustrating than they should be given how mild they can be — the fine may be hefty but there’s typically nothing approaching jail time or even community service. Nevertheless, if you’re the (on average) one in six who gets a speeding ticket in any given year, that’s likely little solace. The same goes for those who receive relatively less-expensive parking tickets — that $100 or so stings.
But it could be worse. You could be like Washington, D.C. resident Danny White — who has received fines totaling an estimated $20,000 in tickets.
And every single one was given to him erroneously.
Twenty-five years ago, White applied for a set of personalized, DC-issued license plates. (Those are common in the U.S., even though they’re not free. And some, like this set in California, can be really creative.) He didn’t select his name, his mom’s name, his dog’s name, or something personally identifiable, though. Instead, he went with a joke: “NO TAGS,” as seen below.
The joke — to ruin it by explaining it — is that license plates are often called “tags,” and cars without plates are often referred to as having no tags. White’s tongue-in-cheek “idea” is that if he were to get a parking ticket, the police officer would have to write “NO TAGS” where that officer would normally write down the offending car’s plate information, and the ticket processing system would discard the ticket as invalid. The problem is that the processing system does the exact opposite.
It’s not all that rare to find cars abandoned on the side of the road, and when police officers come across an abandoned vehicle, they issue tickets. If that car is missing its plates — which happens pretty often when a car is abandoned (as the owner doesn’t want the liability) — the officer may write “no tags” in the spot on the form which asks for the plate number. So what happens? In D.C., at least, the system mails a ticket to the car’s owner. According to U.S. News, in D.C. at least, the system doesn’t understand that “no tags” means that there’s no plates on the car. Instead, it thinks that Danny White is at it again, and mails him a ticket.
The good news for White is that almost all the tickets are easily voided, given that he drives a Chevy, and the erroneous “no tags” tickets aren’t all for Chevys. (The ones that are require a bit more work on his part.) The bad news is that the whole ordeal may cost him his plates. As TIME reports, the city (as recently as 2012) has been considering revoking them, to avoid further mistakes of this nature.
From the Archives: Prawo Jazdy: Ireland’s Worst Driver: The man (and woman) whose vehicular crime spree is unmatched.
Related: A set of eight license plates.