German plates are here!

Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

***image1***It just got harder to spot Americans on the road here as the Kapaun Vehicle Registration Office started issuing German vehicle license plates March 8 to KMC registered drivers.

“Nothing changes for people registering their vehicles,” said Tom Lorenzini, U.S. Forces registrar for Germany, who was here with members of his staff overseeing the first day of issuing German plates.

“They still go to their local registration office, provide the same documentation, fill out the same application and pay the same $15 registration fee.”

The U.S. Army Europe Registry of Motor Vehicles announced the changeover to German plates last year as a result of an agreement with the German Ministry of Transportation. This agreement allows American forces to drive German-plated cars without paying German vehicle tax or undergoing the vehicle TÜV (Technischer Überwachungsverein) inspections.

Designed as an added force protection measure, the changeover will eventually become mandatory for all U.S. forces stationed in Germany, said Mr. Lorenzini. For now, he said, vehicle owners have a choice of keeping their old plates or getting the new ones.

“This is the biggest anti-terrorism force protection issue for personnel,” said Tech. Sgt. Chad Frahm, 569th Security Forces Police Squadron administration flight chief. “It’s not just about protecting a base anymore; it’s protecting the people.  So this is a very big deal.”

German plates take the designator of the local municipality, and since the Kapaun office issues out of Kaiserslautern, the new license plates will sport “KL” for all KMC registered vehicles. Only drivers stationed, not just residing, in the KMC can register and receive German license plates from the Kapaun office, said Sgt. Frahm.

Mr. Lorenzini said the goal is to first issue German plates as new and renewing registrations pop up and eventually replace the U.S. Forces
“AD” and “HK” European look-a-like plates in military communities.

“It’s going to take about two years to do that – maybe a little more,” said Mr. Lorenzini. “It depends on resources, availability and how fast we can get the plate numbers from German authorities.”

With about 25,000 registered drivers, KMC got an initial shipment of almost 600 German plates and will receive weekly shipments based on usage and how many plate numbers are given from the German government. Mr. Lorenzini said 25,000 German plate numbers have been requested for the KMC, and USAREUR has already paid for 15,000.

The Kapaun office received the long, European-style and a shorter version of the “KL” plates. The long one is the primary plate used in Germany, and the short ones are only for those American cars that cannot take another sized plate.

“Our agreement with the Ministry of Transportation is to use as few small plates as physically possible simply because they kind of point out Americans,” said Mr. Lorenzini.

Each registration clerk will have a book listing which cars are made specifically, either in the front or back, for the shorter plates. This may mean that all customers have to do is change the dealer’s license front or back mount for a longer one, said Mr. Lorenzini.

Drivers may not see much of a difference when registering; however, they will experience an additional transaction when they are reassigned outside of the KMC. Vehicle owners must exchange the German plates for the U.S. Forces plates at the Kapaun office before shipping their vehicles outside the KMC, said Sergeant Frahm.

With the new plates, drivers will not only be able to blend in the KMC, but they will also be recognized as German citizens while driving throughout Europe. This means they will not have to place the “USA” decals on their cars when crossing international borders. In fact, the “D” on their license plates will suffice for any European Union country, and for non-EU countries, they place the “D” decal on their vehicles.

The KMC is the third out of 28 military communities in Germany to issue the German plates. Mannheim and Heidelberg received the plates in February.

For more information on the plate conversion, call the Kapaun Vehicle Registration Office at 489-7542.