Imagine waking up on a cold morning to a bevy of police officers waiting for you as you head to work. The glare of television camera lights is in your eyes. Reporters are in your face, asking you why you haven't registered your car in Maryland.
And if you're one of the unlucky ones, such as some White Marsh residents today, you get slapped with a $260 ticket.
That's what residents of the Lincoln Woods and Quail Ridge apartments found starting at 6:30 a.m., as Baltimore County police and state Motor Vehicle Administration agents set up roadblocks to force drivers to register their cars in the state.
Nearly 100 residents of the apartments who had out-of-state tags were warned 45 days ago and told they must register their vehicles with the MVA. State law requires new residents to register their vehicles in Maryland within 30 days.
"There's so much of this out-of-state stuff it's unbelieveable," said Don Hoskins, an assistant chief investigator for the MVA. The agency estimates that as many as 100,000 scofflaws are costing the state about $25 million in lost registration fees, titling taxes and other fees.
"A lot of people just think we're after the $27 registration fee" and other fees, added Patrick Metallo, another MVA investigator. Violators also may be driving unsafe cars that would not pass inspection, or they may not be properly insured, he said.
One Lincoln Woods resident driving a car with Florida tags got nabbed in a roadblock. She claimed to be perplexed about all the fuss.
"I just moved here three weeks ago," she said. But MVA officials said she had been living in Lincoln Woods since at least late September. She got stung with a ticket. She can pay the $260 fine or go to court to fight it.
If she doesn't register her car in the state within 30 days, MVA officials who will check up on her will remove her tags.
J.D. Payne, another Lincoln Woods resident, got a warning. He said he did not receive the first warning.
He, too, didn't care for the MVA's tactics. "To be honest, I kind of feel like it's entrapment."
Mr. Payne, who was driving a pickup truck with Kentucky tags, said he assembles rail cars for a living.
"I only thought I was going to be here a few months," he said, adding that he had lived in White Marsh since October.
Some drivers, including students and members of the military, are exempt from the in-state registration law. Police also were stopping cars with tags from Iowa, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and other states.
Mr. Hoskins works full time trying to find drivers who have failed to register their cars in Maryland. He said some drivers don't take the warnings seriously.
"They're surprised to see us out here" issuing tickets, he said.
Besides checking registrations, MVA agents used a laptop computer to run spot checks on drivers leaving the apartments to see if they were properly insured. Mr. Metallo punched in tag numbers to see if they were on a list of more than 20,000 possible violators of the state's compulsory insurance law.
MVA agents and police today issued 24 tickets and 32 warnings. Seven drivers had their tags removed because they had failed to respond to the earlier warning and did not answer the door when officials came knocking today.
MVA officials who arranged the White Marsh sting today invited the media to help them issue a big warning to drivers everywhere: Comply, or we'll visit you at an ungodly hour. And we'll put you on TV, too.