Having "Null" as a license plate is about the same nightmare as you would expect

I'm not a big fan of personalized number plates, but even I feel a bit bad for Joseph Tartaro, a security researcher who at one point had a whopping $ 12,049 in traffic fines for a badly advised number plate choice. Wired reports that Tartaro registered the record at the end of 2016, and since he paid back a single ticket at the beginning of 2018, he is plagued by quotes that have nothing to do with him.

That's because Tartaro has the word & # 39; Null & # 39; has chosen his plate, which, like anyone who knows anything about programming, will tell you, it is a sort of catnip for poorly programmed computer systems. "Null" is a special text string that is used in programming to tell a system that a value is empty or undefined. You've probably seen it pop up in Excel if you ever make a formatting error, and it has already done a great deal of damage to the life of a Christopher Null who has to live with the word as his last name.

The problem started early 2018 when Tartaro paid a parking fee of $ 35 for a minor offense. Wired notes that this seemed to resemble the "Null" database entry with the details of Tartaro, after which all hell broke out. Quite quickly, if a traffic cop did not enter a license number when writing a ticket, it would be automatically assigned to Tartaro. The DMV would invalidate these tickets if Tartaro informed them, but there was nothing he could do to prevent them from coming.

This is not the first time that we see computer systems get confused when they are confronted with a text string that they do not expect. Back in April, the podcast Answer all did a whole episode on the infotainment system of a Mazda 2016 sedan that would crash when asked to play the podcast 99% invisible via Bluetooth. (However, I will not exactly spoil what the bug was, because the episode is worth listening to in full.)


Although the Mazda's bug only prevents people from listening to certain podcasts, Tartaro's problem is slightly more serious. The Californian DMV does not allow him to renew his license until he has paid all his fines and he does not want to pay anything because he is held liable for this. If you then try to change his plate, it may seem that he is trying to avoid his existing tickets, which can cause even more problems.

So let Tartaro & # 39; s ticketing nightmare be a lesson for you: sometimes programming conditions must be kept to coding.