Can People Look Up License Plates for Owners of Cars?

Can People Look Up License Plates for Owners of Cars?

Individuals cannot legally look up license plate and car owner information, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Only authorized personnel, such as law enforcement officials, can retrieve that information.

In the United States, each state can make its own rules regarding the collection and publication of personal information. While it is legal for state and government agencies to keep records and files on data such as vehicle ownership and license plates, they cannot release that information to members of the public. People can sometimes find a third party online to perform that search, but those entities are usually a scam, according to DMV.org. Although people cannot perform a search for information on other car drivers, they can acquire that basic data following a car accident for insurance purposes.

The Drivers Privacy Protection Act of 1994
Certain types of driver information are made private and generally inaccessible to the public through the Drivers Privacy Protection Act of 1994, according to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (LII).This act prohibits state motor vehicle agencies from disclosing personal information and highly restricted personal information to an individual without the express consent of the individual whose information the requester wants to collect. Exceptions are made for permissible uses, which allows otherwise classified personal information to be disseminated when the data concerns motor vehicle or driver safety. For example, motor vehicle theft, driver safety records, motor vehicle emissions, car recalls, alterations and performance records of the car are permitted to be disclosed to the requesting party. Even then, however, that information is only released for certain purposes, such as helping businesses verify correct employee records, helping a state or federal agency carry out its duties or for use in legal proceedings.

Making a Request for Information
If an individual falls into one of those categories, he or she can ask for that information by following a simple process. One starts the request process by contacting the state department of motor vehicles (DMV) office. Since states vary in the type of personal information they have on file, not all state DMV agencies have the same data. People can call their local motor vehicle agency's office to ask if that information is available or they can check the agency's website to see if there are state laws restricting the collection of certain forms of information. Next, they make a formal request for information. This is usually done in writing, but it can sometimes be done over the phone. State agencies typically have forms that people fill out and submit to make a formal request. Individuals may be able to get forms online through the agency's website. Depending on the state, the local motor vehicle agency may also have information request forms available. People should note that there may be a fee associated with the DMV or state agency processing the request. After processing the request, agencies may deliver the information in several ways. Most mail copies of the files requested to the recipient. They might also send a link that contains copies as attachments. Sometimes, people must visit the agency in person to retrieve the documents.

The only other option for people to get car owner and license plate information is in the information exchange process after a car accident. This information can be acquired through a police report or through the drivers' own initiatives.