With more than 6 million cars sold each year in the United States, the number of registered vehicles exceeds 270 million; based on this statistical information, it can be easily assumed that hundreds of license plates are being looked up at any given time. The majority of these searches are conducted by vehicle owners who wish to determine the status of their registration and plates; however, quite a few people look up license plates assigned to third parties.
The reasons people look up license plate numbers include:
* Finding information about drivers who fled the scene of an accident.
* Finding information about vehicles that illegally parked in restricted areas or that have been spotted suspiciously driving through commercial or residential districts.
* Learning about the chain of ownership and transfer history of motor vehicles.
* Tracking down drivers.
By virtue of their design and function, license plate numbers are part of the public record. Whenever a car with license plates drives down the road or takes up parking spot, the following information is constantly displayed:
* Registration number.
* State where the vehicle is registered. In some cases, the county of registration is also displayed.
* Status of registration; depending on the state, the registration stickers may indicate a technical revision, emissions inspection, proof of insurance, and even the birth month of the owner.
The license plate and vehicle registration processes are handled through the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state. Virtually all state DMV agencies offer some sort of online system that allows individuals to conduct license plate inquiries. The information provided by a basic search includes the aforementioned data about vehicle make and model as well as registration status; in many cases, this lookup function features open access, although some states may charge a fee.
To access other information kept by the DMV, which is typically related to data correlated with driver licenses, individuals are expected to complete a request and pay for the inquiry. There are a few methods to accomplish this:
* Online DMV searches will return information such as the name of the vehicle owner, date of birth and address. The fees charged by these agencies tend to be very reasonable, but individuals may be expected to sign a disclosure form indicating that their lookup request may be turned over to the public record under some circumstances.
* Information brokers charge considerably more than the DMV for license plate lookups, but they also tend to offer data packages that include information gathered from many other public records and consumer databases.
* Private investigators may charge even more than information brokers, but their license lookups tend to be more sophisticated since they may include data from third-party sources, social media, consumer databases, and their own contacts.