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Are License Plates Required For Cars In The USVI? If You Can See, You’d Think Not

CHRISTIANSTED — You could get into an accident trying to take pictures of all the vehicles on St. Croix that do not have a license plate on the front or back here.

I know, because I have tried to take pictures of all the cars I see here driving with absolutely no license plate on their vehicle. Brand-new cars. Lexuses, BMW’s, Porsche Cayennes. These folks can afford to import ultimate foreign luxury cars … but not pay a measly $75.00 for a U.S. Virgin Islands license plate?

Luckily, I haven’t gotten into an accident taking all the pictures of the “main offenders.” And I’m retiring from the photo-taking business, as it doesn’t pay that well …

This is the kind of story that you can’t Google about any major municipality on the U.S. mainland — because it absolutely, positively does not happen there.

If you drive on the U.S. mainland without a license plate on your vehicle — police might impound your vehicle — once they catch up to you.

But if you pay attention on St. Croix, you will see five to 10 cars per day whiz by you with no identifying license plate on their tail ends.

How can this be? Doesn’t the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands need the money?

Well, that’s the puzzling part. This is “found money” for the Virgin Islands government in a time of coronavirus. The government has already announced there will be tax collection shortfalls due to the advent of COVID-19 starting in March.

Is the VIPD’s Traffic Investigation Bureau out of cash? Because you would be hard-pressed to try to find an officer willing to pull someone over in St. Croix for not having a license plate on their vehicle.

I started taking pictures of all the cars that are not properly licensed on our island’s roadways — I have a lot of pictures. That’s a lot of cash out on the street. That the Virgin Islands government refuses to collect.

It reminded me of the time when I was a TV reporter for WSVI-TV Channel 8. It somehow galled me that there were so many streetlights on during the daytime on St. Croix. This was 1995.

I called the executive director of the Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority at the time, Mr. Alberto Bruno-Vega, a good man and a true professional in the power industry. Bruno-Vega agreed with me that it was a waste of electricity for WAPA to be powering the lights in the daytime, when the light is not needed. Plus, he said, the lights were more likely to burn out faster as they were running 24-hours a day needlessly.

Fine. There I had it. I set out to get a picture of every streetlight burning during the daytime on St. Croix and made a note of where each one was located. It was called my “day burners” story by my colleagues at the TV station. They noticed I was spending a lot of time gathering footage of every instance of the streetlights on in the daytime — all over the island.

And some of the TV professionals at Channel 8 had seen some of the pre-production on the piece. They wondered how long the story might be (the typical TV news package was supposed to be one minute 30 seconds long, two minutes at the most.)

My package was four or five minutes long — and I was just getting started! Luckily, some of the feedback from the news video editors at Channel 8 had started to filter up or down to me — and I soon realized that I would not be able to include every instance of a “day burner” that existed on St. Croix then.

So that brings me to the point of this editorial, I have plenty of photo footage showing the degree of the problem on St. Croix when it comes to the proper licensing of vehicles on the “Big Island” (a moniker I popularized here in my television news reports on “NewsChannel 8.”)

However, there will be only one picture of a vehicle on St. Croix with no license plate. That picture was taken on Saturday July 4 just east of the Hermon Hill entrance road west of Christiansted town.

That’s because of my infamous “day burners” story on WAPA.

Like that story, I couldn’t understand why it was happening. Maybe someone at the VIPD or Government House can tell me why the Virgin Islands government doesn’t need revenues from people buying license plates for their vehicles at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV)?

That explanation would be good to hear. Not sure how you’d even begin to try to explain why cars don’t need a license plate on St. Croix. But if someone wants to try … I’m all ears.

What happens if you get in an accident with someone who doesn’t have a license plate on their vehicle? Do you think they are going to wait around at the accident scene for an hour until the police arrive? And what do you tell police when they drive off and you’re left there alone with a damaged vehicle?

Make, model and year of the vehicle? Color of the vehicle. What the driver looked like as they were speeding away, maybe flipping you the bird for good measure as they do?

Lot of questions on this one. But it just doesn’t make good fiscal sense. Can the VIPD or Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. tell me what the reasoning is for people on St. Croix not needing license plates to drive on our territorial roadways?

I’ll be waiting for the answer. I can’t imagine the press secretaries who work for Governor Bryan will be quick to answer this one. But if they are game, I can be reached 24 hours a day at:

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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