New Jersey drivers can now present their digital motor vehicle registration during traffic stops, in line with new regulations that have come into place in the Garden State. The Motor Vehicle Commission recently announced the launch of the program, which allows drivers to display their electronic registrations on a smartphone or other electronic device. The move follows legislation signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy in November 2021, which provides drivers with a digital proof of their vehicle’s registration. Under this law, drivers can still request a paper copy of their registration.
The introduction of electronic registration also aims to spare drivers from a $150 fine if they receive a summons for failure to produce the document at a police road stop, as long as they can provide a digital or paper copy. The new legislation has been received positively, with acting MVC chief administrator Latrecia Littles-Floyd stating: “The NJMVC is pleased to offer an electronic proof of vehicle registration that can be displayed on a smartphone or another electronic device. Paper registrations will still be issued and recognized as valid, but they are no longer the only option for drivers when they need to provide proof of registration.”
Technically, this change was implemented on March 24. When customers complete an online renewal or duplicate registration transaction with the MVC, a vehicle registration is now emailed to the customer as a PDF file. “The emailed PDF file is considered the proof of registration,” said an MVC spokesman. “Law enforcement can access the registration information on that document in the card form in the upper right corner.” This document is a valid registration by law and can be printed out or saved as an electronic image on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
This new system also makes life easier for drivers of about 820,000 leased vehicles, as renewal applications are now sent directly to lessees rather than the lessor or the vehicle owner. However, the change does not plan to phase out paper hard copies completely. “There is no immediate plan to phase out paper hard copies completely,” said the MVC spokesman.
Readers have raised concerns about the legal ramifications of handing over an “unlocked” phone or device to police. However, a Rutgers University law professor has clarified that the new law should make it clear that it is not consent to search the device. “That is the important one sentence that will keep it from going to the Supreme Court. The legislature foresaw the problem,” said Professor Robert F. Williams, director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers. This law is modeled after similar measures enacted in 2017 in Michigan and 2019 in Tennessee, which clearly state that a driver is not giving consent to allow the entire phone to be searched.
Michigan’s law allows drivers to present a digital photograph of their current registration, and so does New Jersey’s law. The New Jersey bill also provides police and judges with protection against claims they damaged the phone or tablet while checking the registration.
The change has also been made to make it easier for drivers by requiring registration renewal applications to be sent directly to lessee vehicle owners. The leased vehicle registration renewal changes were effective from April 2023. The MVC has officially transitioned four agencies in Cardiff, Newton, Salem, and Washington to hybrid agencies that can service both in-person license and vehicle transactions. This undue’s some of the COVID-19 pandemic changes that designated agencies as licensing or vehicle centers. The change announced in December answers complaints made by state legislators from suburban and rural areas that the separate licensing and vehicle centers result in long drives for constituents to get to an agency. About 80% of all MVC transactions can be done online on the NJMVC.gov website.
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