“Paper plates” are perfect on picnics – but not on motor vehicles in the Cayman Islands.

In December, the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing began issuing temporary license plates (literally, pieces of paper) in anticipation of a new $1.5 million program to replace 45,000 old-fashioned metal plates with electronic tags. That was supposed to start in February … but as evidenced by the growing ubiquity of the black-and-white paper plates on the roads, that launch appears to have been delayed.

As of mid-January, the department had issued paper plates to some 700 vehicles. Assuming that figure has increased over the past three months, we imagine there are now considerably more temporary tags. (Not counting the unknown quantity of “fake” plates, which could easily be produced on a home laser printer.)

A Cayman Compass journalist called and texted DVDL Director David Dixon to ask him the following:

How many temporary paper license plates has the DVDL now issued?

Have the new electronic tags arrived on island yet?

If not, why not? And when?

To his credit, Mr. Dixon did call our reporter back. However, instead of answers, he gave us a promise that his department would send out a press release today (Wednesday).

The issue of the plethora of vehicles bearing paper plates, the possibility of “fake” plates, or – most obviously – no plates at all, has returned to the foreground of public debate via two recent high-profile news items: first, the “plateless” getaway car used in Saturday night’s violent armed robbery of a Foster’s grocery store, and second, the posse of motorbikers (riding vehicles with no tags) who abandoned a “friend” who was lying, seriously injured, in the road in East End.

While those incidents are separate and unrelated, they are not absolutely isolated. Every motorist in Grand Cayman, perhaps on a daily basis, sees (and hears) cars and motorbikes of suspect roadworthiness, typically tearing down the road at twice the posted speed limit and featuring any combination of hallmarks, such as no plates, obscured plates, tinted windows, customized exhaust pipes, no helmets, LED lights, etc.

Toward the end of last year, new Police Commissioner Derek Byrne made overtures that the police were going to crack down on Cayman’s infestation of illegal motorbikes. Apart from a few opening salvos, as far as we can tell, little progress has been made.

If the commissioner is out of ideas, here’s our suggested plan of action:

First, set a daily departmentwide quota for the issuance of citations for vehicles (cars and bikes) with missing or unreadable license plates. With more than 300 police and auxiliary officers, a number of 100 citations per day is not unreasonable (and may be too low). Meet that quota each day, and every day, until the problem goes away.

Second, inspectors at service stations and the DVDL must not “pass” any vehicles with obscured license tags, dark-tinted windows or any other deficiency.

The laws of the Cayman Islands – including ones regarding license plate covers and tinted windows – must be enforced. Or they must be altered in the Legislative Assembly.

The key concern goes beyond the infractions themselves to their implications and the consequences. We cannot allow the lack of consequences for “no plates” and “no-see plates” to enable the commission of serious violent crimes, or to foster an overall disrespect for our police officers and the law itself.


  1. First of all I don’t understand why Government would alow people to take of their old license plates , before they get the new one to put on . Then no one knows when the new ones will arrive . Meanwhile the criminals are taking advantage of it . Is this the Government hard at work or what .

    • Well, they don’t allow people to take off existing plates. Its more an issue of new cars – or second hand cars arriving on the island that need a new plate – but the new plates are not available. The DVDL issues paper certificates, but because they are paper, they get destroyed if attached to the outside of the car. So people put them on the dashboard or parcel shelf. The problem is that these paper plates are hard to see, and of course can be faked. People get used to seeing cars without metal plates and just assume the car is licenced. At that point people with existing metal plates can get away with taking off their plates – because the police do nothing to enforce the plate display.

      The better questions are 1) why did DVDL stop issuing the old plates before the new ones were ready and 2) why don’t the police enforce the law on displaying valid licence – even if its paper.

  2. I have a question: why would anyone employ somebody with tinted windows or a dark plastic cover on their number plate? I mean, when we think about it, this is a breach of the law and should be seen as such as would surely be the equivalent of applying for a job without a Police clearance letter? What does driving with a blacked out tag imply of the person – are they planning something shady? Does it mean to say about them “I’ve not done anything but when I do I’m ready for a clean getaway”? So why employ them? What other reason could there be for wanting to obscure their plates? If every boss/HR department in the country went down to the carpark and noted the infringements and simply wrote a nice note to their employees (who represent their companies on and off the job) requesting the vehicles be made road legal or there will be consequences then the problem would be solved in 99% of cases surely? Sorry.. just a thought!

  3. As usual this is simple to enforce. Equip police cars with vehicle immobilizing “boots”.
    They can be the expensive ones or a simple length of heavy chain, a heavy duty padlock and a concrete block does the trick. (I have used this in a car park I managed).
    Drive around car parks and those at the beach and immobilize the untagged, dark tinted cars and obscured tags.
    $100 fine later plus a wait to be released and you can be sure it won’t happen again and word will get out.

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