By Claude Nebel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Deputy Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, U.S. Department of State
very year, law enforcement officers encounter new designs on state-issued license plates. This year, a familiar international plate will also change. New diplomatic license plates are coming soon; you may have already noticed them on vehicles in your area.
Beginning August 28, 2007, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions (OFM), a directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, started issuing distinctive, newly designed diplomatic license plates to replace the red, white, and blue diplomatic plates.
The current license plates (see figure 1, left) were first issued in 1984 and have remained unchanged since that time. Each plate has a status designator (D for diplomat, S for administrative and technical staff, C for consular personnel) as well as an assigned country scramble code. The country scramble code is a two-letter identifier assigned to each country by OFM solely for the purpose of issuing diplomatic plates.
The OFM believes that now is the time to change the plates in line with the standard practice in motor vehicle departments to change plate design periodically, and to distinguish the State Department’s OFM plates from other jurisdictions’ plates.
Featured on the new plates are the Department of State seal and the OFM logo. Each plate continues to have the vehicle registrant’s diplomatic status designator (D, S, or C), the country-specific scramble code, and a random series of numbers. The right panel of figure 1 shows an example of the new license plates to be issued to the diplomatic community.
The OFM is issuing the new plates for new registrations in September and will renew active registrations using the new, replacement plates as the registrations expire month by month. The license plates are renewed yearly to ensure that the vehicles maintain the federally mandated high levels of insurance and to ensure compliance, to the extent permitted under international treaty, with relevant motor vehicle laws. Law enforcement officers will continue to see old and new plates for more than a year after the first issuance. After December 31, 2008, the old plates will no longer be valid.
During its nearly 25 years in existence, with the help of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, the OFM has built a strong and viable Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office (DMVO) that mirrors the functions of most state motor vehicle licensing authorities. The OFM DMVO was established specifically to further one of the most important provisions in the 1982 Foreign Missions Act: to ensure that the State Department maintains close controls on diplomatic and consular personnel in the United States.
Under international law, certain privileges and immunities are extended to members of foreign diplomatic missions and consular posts. These privileges and immunities, however, are not absolute, and law enforcement officers retain their fundamental responsibilities to protect and police the orderly conduct of persons in the United States.
In full cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement, the OFM will continue to monitor and control the diplomats and consular personnel authorized to drive vehicles bearing diplomatic license plates.
The OFM DMVO issues Department of State drivers’ licenses as well as the familiar red, white, and blue diplomatic license plates to accredited members of embassies, consulates, and certain international organizations and their dependents.
There are some 11,619 OFM diplomatic license plates active throughout the United States. Broken down geographically, there are 6,277 plates in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; 2,596 plates in New York City; 769 plates in Los Angeles; and the balance are in other areas of the country where foreign governments have consular presence.
Law enforcement agencies are requested to direct any questions regarding motor vehicle incidents involving OFM license plated vehicles to the OFM DMVO at 202-895-3521 during business hours; after hours, calls should be directed to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Command Center at 571-345-3146 or toll-free at 866-217-2089. Law enforcement agencies may also contact the OFM regional offices in New York at 212-826-4500, in Chicago at 312-353-5762, in Los Angeles at 310-235-6292, in San Francisco at 415-744-2910, in Houston at 713-272-2865, and in Miami at 305-442-4943.
The OFM understands the difficult and challenging work of law enforcement officers every day in protecting the lives of people in the United States. The office will continue to work closely with federal,state, and local law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of the driving public. ■
|Figure 1. Old versus new diplomatic and consular license plate comparison|