Sunday, December 26, 2010

DMV Puts Space in Ham License Plates

To Report Ham License Plates You Have Been Issued with a Space or,
to Support the Effort to Remove the Space
email, Cliff:
(click on Blog Archieves at the Upper Left for More (Petitions, Sample Letters, Complaints/Response, News Items .......)

This is more than a personal case of an individual California ham running up against the
California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) bureaucracy in an effort to get amateur radio license plates. This is a case of the DMV changing it policy without public comment or notice by inserting a space in FCC issued callsigns on license plates. This new policy impacts every ham in California, and may set an anti-ham radio precedent for the other 49 states. Even if you have ham plates without a space, should those plates get stolen, fall off, get damaged or you change your call, you will get plates with a space in your callsign.

I, Cliff Cheng, Ph.D., WW6CC, have been trying to get amateur radio license plates “WW6CC” for 7 months (June 2007 to Dec. 2007). I have taken time off work and stood in line at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices 5 times. DMV has issued me 3 temporary paper license plates during my 7 month wait and given me nothing but a bureaucratic runaround.

DMV requires a copy of a ham’s FCC license to be attached to the ham plate application. Even if you fill out the application correctly (no space in the callsign) and your FCC license does not have a space in the callsign, DMV issues vehicle registration cards with a space in the callsign, i.e. WW6 CC. Each DMV clerk I dealt with said DMV’s software automatically puts the space in. I told DMV numerous times at each turn to make sure there is no space in the plates. Every time I said this, I was assured there would not be a space.

A month ago (Nov. 2007) I complained about waiting for 7 months without the plates I paid for, the check was cashed, the 5 trips to the DMV and the 3 temporary paper license plates and runaround DMV bureaucrats were given me. I wrote California State Assemblyman, Mike Feuer, 42nd Assembly District. Within 5 days of Assembly staffer Josh Englander taking on the case, I got plates – but only they read – “WW6 CC” (note the space in the call sign).

I thought this was a mistake; a mistake I warned them, and Josh not to make. I asked Josh how to send the plate back and get a correct one; thinking, at this point, the space was a clerical error.

Josh said a new manager at DMV is in charge of issuing licenses plates and started putting spaces in plates as a matter of policy 3 week ago (Nov. 2007). Josh said the new DMV Manager thinks unless a call sign plate has a space it is a vanity plate. The DMV thinks unless a call sign plate has a space in it, police and firefighters will think it is a vanity plate.

I was floored by this backwards argument! First, I pointed out the fact that the call sign system is governed by international treaty of which is U.S. is only one signatory. The FCC has a block of call signs it may issue but may not arbitrarily places spaces in call signs. DMV has no authority to place spaces in call signs. Josh said DMV told him they are not subject to the FCC and can do whatever they please with their license plates. I said that by international treaty through the FCC’s authority I am the sole grantee of WW6CC. No one else in the world may use his call sign. No one has authority to put spaces in call signs, even the FCC. Josh repeated DMV’s argument.

I also pointed out that the U.S. Constitution requires full faith and credit be extended from one level of government to another. DMV is to recognize FCC issued callsigns and may not change them.

I also stated as a customer of the DMV, I applied and paid for a ham callsign license plate which were ordered and paid for as - WW6CC. DMV required a copy of my FCC license be attached to the application which said WW6CC. DMV accepted the application and cashed my check by delivered another product which is not only unacceptable to this but other similar customers too. DMV accepted application and cashed my check without objection to the order saying “WW6CC” but failed to provide the ordered product for 7 months until a lawmaker’s office intervened. In this case, the Customer was given a secession of 3 temporary paper license plates for a short duration which required him to take time off work and go to DMV offices and stand in line 5 times. DMV should provide the product as it was ordered.

I also argued that DMV has issued 10,000s of ham plates on the road which have the correct call sign on them. DMV said to Josh that they will not recall the plates but will only issue ham plates with spaces in the call signs from now on. Anyone with common sense knows that with two kinds of plates on the road, it creates confusion which DMV has unnecessarily created.

I said to Josh that DMV should fix its computer system so it does not automatically puts spaces in. I also relayed that a few ham friends who have been stopped by the police were told they were driving without a valid license plates because the police had not put a space in the plate when it was entered into the DMV computer. I pointed out, the police may think an innocent ham is a criminal if the license plate does not check out. I expressed concern that the police may arrest an innocent ham or there might be a confrontation; all because the DMV has not fixed its apparent software problem.

I complained to Josh that if DMV really believed in it policy they should recall all the plates without spaces and reissue them with spaces, at no charge to the hams of course. Josh said DMV does not want to spend the money to do this. I believes this is only half-true; that if DMV attempted to take away all the license plates with the correct call sign and them replace them with plates with spaces in the call sign there would be a outrage that would force them to change policy.

I also complained DMV has changed policy without public comment. Josh said DMV told him they are correcting a mistake in not enforcing the policy which should have been followed all along. Cliff said he is not a lawyer but wonders if the Brown Act (open meetings) was violated.

Vanity Plate Fees

Later as I researched the issue, I discovered an August 1977 JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) Amateur Radio Club newsletter that told of California Senate Bill 915 which was controversial for it initially wanted to charge hams who ordered ham plates a vanity plate fee. The ham community was successful in defeating the legislation. The vanity plates fee, currently, $41 and up, per year, depending on which plate style you choose. I wonder if DMV declaring callsign plates without the space are vanity plates, is an effort to circumvent SB915 and charges us extra fees – knowing we object to DMV tampering with our FCC issued callsigns?

Getting the Word Out

I sent an email to my ham friends in LA about this problem to see if they had a similar experience. Apparently the email was in-turn widely circulated and posted in multiple places.

One of those hams responding was D.W. Thorne, K6SOJ, founder of the World Radio Relay League and Editor of EmComm Monthly. DW lost one of his correct (no space in the call sign) ham plates after a long road trip. He drove 130 miles to the nearest DMV office to order a replacement. He was given “K6 SOJ.” He was told by DMV, that the FCC required the DMV to put a space in callsign plates. DW called FCC and was told “that’s not true.” If you lose your ham plates (with no space), or they are stolen or damaged, and you want a new one, DMV will replace it with a plate with a space in your callsign.

I called both Directors of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL, national organization of amateur radio) who cover Calif. He left a message for Dick Norton, N6AA, Southwest Director, who covers southern Calif. Dick said he would write a letter to Assemblyman Feuer.

I spoke to Bob Vallio, W6RGG, Pacific Director who covers northern Calif. Bob’s inquiry had stalled after DMV told him federal law required a space in ham plates. Yet DMV failed to provide citation to the alleged law. At least D.W. Thorne, K6SOJ, if not many other hams who complained, were told the same thing. Bob pointed out none of the other 49 states puts spaces in call sign license plates. Bob called ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, Esq., W3KD. Chris said there was no such federal law.

I also had initiated a complaint to the FCC’s LA Field Office about the DMV’s preemption of FCC policy and U.S. treaties.


Cliff requests all California amateur radio clubs and emergency communications groups place on the agenda of their next meeting an item to inform their memberships about this problem and to either write a letter of protest or circulate a petition for members’ signatures (sample letter and petitions on

Individual hams can be effective by writing and mailing or faxing a letter to their Calif. State Assemblyperson, State Senator, Governor and the Chairs of the Assembly and State Senate Transportation Committees, which have oversight over the DMV:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
300 So. Spring St., 16h floor
LA CA 90013
(213) 897-0319 (fax)
Attn: Karen Kukaren
Emails are not as effective as hard copy.


Senator Alan Lowenthal
California State Senate
27th District
Chair, Transportation & Housing Committee

115 Pine Ave, Suite 430
Long Beach, CA 90802
Phone: (562) 495-4766
Fax: (562) 495-1876

Serving the communities of: Artesia, Avalon, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Florence-Graham, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Paramount, Signal Hill, South Gate, and Willowbrook.


Assemblyman Pedro Nava
35th Assembly District
Chair, Assembly Transportation Committee
Chair, Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Services and Homeland Security

District Offices:
Santa Barbara County
101 W. Anapamu Street
Suite A
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Tel: (805) 564-1649
Fax: (805) 564-1651

Ventura County
201 E. Fourth Street
Suite 209-A
Oxnard, CA 93030
Tel: (805) 483-9808
Fax: (805) 483-8182


To find your Calif. State Assemblyperson and State Senator, click
Usually Assemblypeople give better service to their constituents than State Senators or the Governor.

Please copy your letter to Cliff, and Office of Assemblyman. Mike Feuer, Josh Englander,, put in the subject line: No Space in Ham Plates.

If you want to do more, call your Assemblyperson’s office and call Josh Englander at of Assemblyman. Mike Feuer’s office (310) 285-5490 and express your opinion to him.

Writing the DMV directly does no good. Let the DMV see the opposition to their policy from lawmakers to whom they are accountable to.

1 comment:

W6MJM said...

I wrote a letter to the Director of the California DMV, complaning about the space in my new license plates. Here is the response from the DMV dated December 27, 2007:
This is in response to your letter dated December 13, 2007, regarding the spacing of your Amateur Radio (HAM) call letters on your leicnse plates.

California Vehicle Code Section 5005 allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue special plates in lieu of the regular license plates to a vehicle owned by persons holding an Amateur Radio license issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These special license plates display the official Amateur Radio call letters of the applicant as assigned by the FCC.

The Department has been issuing HAM license plates since 1953 when the statute was first enacted. The placement or spacing of letters and numbers composed of the HAM license was originally determined by the FCC. Although the department is required by law to issue HAM license plates with specific call letters, spacing is not addressed in the statute and the department can exercise its administrative authority in this regard.

The Department adopted the spacing in order for law enforcement to differentiate between HAM license plates and other series license plates. Unlike other states, California does not distinguish the HAM license plates with a symbol or wording indicating the plate is a HAM plate.

In April 2007, it was brought to our attention that the HAM license plates were being ordered and issued without the proper spacing. The problem has since been corrected; however, those HAM plates issued with no spaces will remain valid until the plates are lost or damaged and duplicates are requested. The Department has received several complaints, regarding the spacing of HAM license plates ordered by applicants. Thoughts of eliminating the spaces have been reviewed, but we must take into consideration the other series license plates and the distinction that HAM license plates will no longer have.

MARIO BALBIANI, Program Manager
Registration Policy Development
Department OF Motor Vehicles
Registration Operations Division
P.O. Box 825393
Sacramento, CA 94232-5393

My comments are that it sounds like if you do not want to have the space you will have to register you call as a "Personalized Plate" and pay the $21 or so each year.
Marvin - W6MJM (or W6 MJM)