Checking vehicle registrations is illegal in most cases in the United States. The Drivers Privacy Protection Act makes it a federal crime to release motor vehicle information to unauthorized parties. Authorized requests from private investigators, government agencies or automobile manufacturers should be sent to the local DMV office to ensure compliance with all federal and state laws.
States are permitted to pass more restrictive vehicle registration privacy laws. Texas is an example of a state with a strong privacy statute. Because state laws vary, even authorized parties should go through official DMV channels rather than third-party services. This guarantees complete compliance with current state and local laws.
Other forms of vehicle information are also protected by federal law. The Driver Protection Act of 2015 makes it a federal crime for unauthorized parties to access any vehicle's event recorder data without the consent of the owner. An event data recorder is a device present in some vehicles that records engine, brake, steering and seat belt data during an accident.
This data can be accessed by federal investigators and emergency medical teams responding to a crash, with the consent of the vehicle's owner or with a court order. It is also legal to access this data for traffic safety research purposes if all personal information is removed. Gathering personally identifiable data is not legal for traffic research purposes.