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Plate-flip drivers say 'Catch me if you can'

SHANGHAI'S traffic police are teaming up with the city's business watchdog to catch motorists who use and shops that sell "plate flippers" - mechanical devices that hide a car's true tag and allow drivers to speed and swerve with impunity.

In a crackdown that began on Wednesday, around a dozen shops selling hundreds of flippers were raided as traffic cops stepped up road patrols to rein in errant motorists.

One of the main enforcement problems, however, is the lack of effective punishment, an officer involved in the effort told Shanghai Daily yesterday. Fines are insufficient to deter the lawbreakers, and legislation might be needed to raise penalties, he said. The main thing officers fear is a driver escaping a serious crime - such as a hit-and-run fatal accident - using a fake tag.

There are two main types of plate-hiding mechanisms on the local market. One is a rudimentary curtain-like affair, in which a driver uses a remote control to drop a cover over his plate. The other is a more elaborate device that uses two fake tags that can be flipped in an instant by a driver's switch.

The devices can cost up to 1,000 yuan (US$146), but they can help a driver avoid tickets for speeding and other traffic violations, especially on roads equipped with police cameras. The equipment is also sold on local and foreign Internet sites with such police-taunting slogans such as "Catch me if you can."

Drivers using these devices usually display their real car plates in downtown districts where traffic is heavier and slower and officers are on the alert, said an experienced patrolman who is a member of the crackdown team. The flippers are more likely to be found on the vast network of suburban roads and expressways where camera surveillance is prevalent.

But even if an offending driver is caught, the fine is only 1,000 yuan and six penalty points. The accumulation of 12 points results in license suspension.

"We hope legislators can become more aware of the seriousness of using these tools and make the punishment tougher," said the officer, who asked not to be identified. "If the driver hits and injures or kills someone, the cheating device will allow him to escape without leaving a key clue to his identity.

'More serious'

The use of the flippers, he said, "is a more serious crime than a simple traffic violation."

Since catching motorists using the devices is relatively difficult, the new crackdown is also targeting those who sell them. The product watchdog said it is fining the sellers 2,000 yuan and threatening to pull the business licenses of repeat offenders.


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