How Steve Jobs Got Away with Not Having a License Plate

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Steve Jobs was characteristically coy when he told biographer Walter Isaacson why he felt no need to have a license plate on his Mercedes. Jobs brushed off the question as if he were invincible, but it turns out he was just exploiting a loophole in California's vehicle laws. Talking about Jobs and his signature Mercedes AMG sports coupe, Isaacson said on 60 Minutes last weekend:

I said, "Why don't you have a license plate?" He said, "Well, I don't want people following me." I said, "Well not having a license plate is probably more noticeable." He said, "Yah, you're probably right. You know why I don't have a license plate?" I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I don't have a license plate." I think he felt the normal rules just shouldn't apply to him.

The normal rules in fact did apply to Steve Jobs, but even though he could certainly afford to pay the tickets, it's  likely that he never even got one. David Heath at IT Wire recently spoke to Jon Callas, a former Apple executive, about the case of the missing license plate, and Callas explained how Jobs got away with it:

Anyone with a brand new car had a maximum of six months to affix the issued number plate to the vehicle. So Jobs made an arrangement with the leasing company; he would always change cars during the sixth month of the lease, exchanging one silver Mercedes SL55 AMG for another identical one.  At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted.

It's true. We looked it up. In California, you have six months from the time you register your vehicle to switch the dealer's temporary tag for a permanent plate. For whatever reason Because they're obsessive, Apple fans have also made a habit of taking pictures of Jobs's license plate and so we have a record in cell phone photos of the missing plates, though it appears that Jobs didn't bother to post the temporary tag, which is required by California state law, either.

Another observation, however, is the fact that Jobs parked in handicapped spots all the time. Did he have a handicapped sticker because of his illness? Maybe, but we can't see one. Does the lack of license plate keep him from getting parking tickets? No, because the meter maids can always check your VIN number through the windshield. Did he get lots of parking tickets? Probably not. Most of the photos we've seen of Jobs's parked, plateless car appear to be from the same parking lots, perhaps at Apple's headquarters. We're guessing their security guard let it slide. Is Steve Jobs awful for taking parking spaces from handicapped people? Meh, he's done worse.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.