An effort to stop tagging rental cars for bandits

January 11, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Fearful that tourists might be targeted for crime, the state is moving to strip rental cars of their distinctive license plates.

Emergency legislation would eliminate the current tags, which feature the stacked letters, "DR" for daily rental, and five numbers. New license plates would be the standard for passengers cars, three letters and three numbers.

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration officials said that rental agencies have asked for the change in light of Florida's problems last year with foreign tourists who became victims of violent crime.

In one of the most widely publicized cases, a German woman was robbed and killed after her rented car was struck from behind and she got out to inspect the damage. The license plate on her car identified it as a rental.

"There's some concern and sensitivity to what can happen if a daily rental vehicle is identifiable," said W. Marshall Rickert, the MVA's administrator.

"We know of no problems with that in Maryland, but we see no reason to take the chance."

Maryland began using the DR tags just three years ago. The distinctive license plate was intended to make it easier to audit rental car records. The MVA wanted to make sure the state got its proper share of titling and registration fees.

Mr. Rickert said the MVA now has the ability to do that without the aid of the license plate.

Michael V. Johansen, an Annapolis lobbyist representing a coalition of rental car agencies, said his clients will support the bill in the General Assembly. Florida stopped issuing distinctive rental plates last year, as have New York and Colorado.

"It all came from the Florida cases with tourists singled out for crime," Mr. Johansen said. "It just makes sense."

There are 13,200 cars with the DR tags in Maryland.

Rented trucks, minivans and utility vehicles do not carry the rental tags.

Anne Ferro, the MVA's associate administrator for vehicle services, said if the proposed law is passed by the legislature, companies will have six months to obtain new plates.

The bill doesn't specify who will pay for them, however.

Mrs. Ferro said the MVA intends to pick up the tab for all those who meet the deadline. The total replacement cost is estimated at $55,000.

The Hertz Corp., the nation's largest car rental company, supports Maryland's efforts, said Joseph M. Russo, spokesman for the Park Ridge, N.J.-based company. Since 1991, Hertz has been eliminating bumper stickers, license plate frames, decals or any other feature that might identify a car as a rental.

"There's nothing left on a Hertz rental car, including small decals, that identify them as rental cars," Mr. Russo said.

"But you can take off all the bumper stickers you want, it won't do much good if you have an identifier on the license plate."

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