Obscured license plates


#1

Anyone know the laws on license plate frames, stickers, covers, etc. in various states? It’s always bugged me that SO many cars on the road have something other than four small bolts on them. I found the law when I was in SC, and nothing was allowed on the plates other than bolts or bolt covers no larger than 1/2". Despite that, at least 50% of all the cars on the road had something on them. I’m guessing it was a law that was routinely ignored (or not even known) by the cops down there, because there’s no way you’d get that many cars on the road if the law was even occasionally enforced.

Most frames obscure the state names on plates, and some of the stuff I’ve seen obscures the plate number. The “transparent” covers almost always make the plate hard to read, because that clear plastic never remains very transparent after just a few months of exposure to sunlight UV.


#2

Cops are evaluated by the amount of fines the tickets they write collect. There is no official quota, but they can be seen as not doing their job if they don’t write enough tickets as measured by dollar value.

An obscured license plate ticket just doesn’t generate enough revenue to justify the time it takes to write it. This is true with a lot of motor vehicle laws. Sometimes this will be ticketed as a secondary violation, that is they will only be written if the motorist was pulled over for high value infraction, like speeding.

Even if the motorist is not ticked for the license plate violation, things like an obscured license plate tends to “piss off” most cops and as a result, they look harder at the offender for something that makes it worth while to pull them over. The offending drivers often complain that the cops are picking on them, but they never make this connection.

One time a bunch of us in the shop decided to got to dinner together. We all jumped into our vehicles and went to a local restaurant. On the way back, I passed one of the guys who was doing 76 in a 65, and he got pulled over for speeding. The difference was that he had one of those neon lights around his license plate that is commonly referred to as a “kiss my *ss” license plate light. Some people just don’t get it.


#3
  1. Law in PA is that the current registration sticker MUST be displayed on the plate.

  2. Generally, if one buys a car in PA, the dealership puts their “plate frame” (displaying the company name) on, unless you explicitly say no (and somethimes even then).

So, you can’t have a “bare” plate, per law, in PA, and the “plate frame” doesn’t obscure the numbers. (“Frames obscure the state name?!?” if a LEO can’t ID a plate’s state via its design, s/he’s got way bigger problems than an inability to read the state name.)


#4

meanjoe…I think you’re assuming to much here…by bare plate, I took it to mean a plate with no surrounding frame, not a plate that was illegal due to not having the appropriate expiration sticker, etc, on them.

I have seen frames that come awful close to obscuring the stickers, though.


#5

About five years ago there was a big foofaraw here in Arizona that nothing could obscure the name of the state. (While it’s also against the law to cover up the stickers, nobody was especially vocal about that.) They felt it was necessary to pass a new law about the state name because we have a ridiculous number of “specialty” plate designs here, such that it’s just about impossible to identify an Arizona plate by the color combination and artwork alone.

I was pretty upset. Two cars earlier, I had paid to have a custom frame made that read “my other car is nose-down in a canal”. Since it covered up a good two-thirds of the top of the state name, I had to take it off.


#6

Here is another view for you. I am of the opinion that very minor infractions such as license plates partially obscured by dealer advertising plastic frames, dark covers that make numbers difficult to read or burned out license plate lamps are not enforced but instead are kept in reserve to give cops a reason to stop you at any time that they want.

If you think that they don’t see this stuff, I can give you the following example. I wanted my plate to expire in another month so I talked the DMV into providing me with an expiration sticker that lasted beyond a year and paid the additional plate fee prorated of course. Later a cop saw the sticker that was due to expire beyond a year later and stopped me to question it. There was no problem after the cop verified it.


#7

“Cops are evaluated by the amount of fines the tickets they write collect. There is no official quota, but they can be seen as not doing their job if they don’t write enough tickets as measured by dollar value.”

That’s an unfair blanket statement and I hope you have some sources or are just referring to your own personal observations W/O actually talking to a supervisor. If a cop is scheduled to do traffic control in a busy area with known high speeder rate complaints, yes, he is expected to enforce the law and the number of tickets is part of a supervisor’s evaluation. If he is doing security checks that day or evening or has jury duty or traffic accident or criminal investigation or answering calls for help etc. there are other evaluation tools. But to just say cops are evaluated by the amount of fines they collect with out qualifiers is like saying that their first obligation is to make money and leave criminal offenders to their leave. Please put such statements into context.

So many people only see cops in one context, while they are driving and think that is their total active duty life. There other source seems to be Dirty Harry movies.


#8

Texas went through the ‘absolutely nothing may obsure the plate’ thing when the legislature passed a new law a few years ago, would have made just about all frames illegal. After lots of complaints they recinded it.


#9

“That’s an unfair blanket statement and I hope you have some sources or are just referring to your own personal observations W/O actually talking to a supervisor.”

I got that from a book titled “A Speeders Guide to Avoiding Tickets” by James Eagan. I loaned my copy to someone and never got it back so I can’t reference the page number. The author was a New York State Trooper.

This was not meant to be derogatory or disrespectful to police officers. The fact is that almost everyone, no matter where they work or what they do, receive some sort of formal evaluation by their supervisors periodically. As I stated, there is no formal quota, but an officer that is out of the norm, either by not writing enough tickets or by writing too many is going to have some explaining to do.

I remember about 20 years ago, or more maybe, a police officer in the city where I lived was fired for writing too many tickets. So it works both ways. I’m sure that in this case, there were other issues, like the fact that he was a white officer and he wrote 3000 tickets, all to African Americans.


#10

One thing I’ve noticed is that (on top of vanity plates denoting the car owner is a cop, fireman, etc) badges are available to affix to the license plate with one of the 4 screws.

These badges denote if the car owner is a cop, fireman, or state trooper and while the badges do not obscure the plate too much they also serve a purpose apparently.
That is to let a cop who pulls someone over for a traffic violation know immediately if that person is going to given a “friendly verbal warning” and let go instead of being ticketed as a non-cop, fireman, or trooper might be.


#11

“That’s an unfair blanket statement and I hope you have some sources or are just referring to your own personal observations W/O actually talking to a supervisor.”

In Washington state there was a big blow up over that very issue, a officer didn’t issue enough tickets that was 20 years ago but here’s are some recent articles about just that.


#12

In Minnesota you have to have the state name, number, and month and year stickers visable. Both of my plate holders cover up the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, which is not accurate anyway. We’ve got more like 12,000 lakes. Some holders cover up the state which is not acceptable, and I agree those with the yellowed plastic cover are terrible. I like the plate holders in the back to finished it off and it sure beats dealer stickers which I don’t allow.


#13

"I remember about 20 years ago, or more maybe, a police officer in the city where I lived was fired for writing too many tickets. "

The vague nature of statements like this again is the issue omitting circumstances around the issuing of tickets and this statement w/o context is equally unfair. It’s like you making the statement that a teacher is getting fired for giving out too much homework. .

Kieth; “The fact is that almost everyone, no matter where they work or what they do, receive some sort of formal evaluation by their supervisors periodically. As I stated, there is no formal quota, but an officer that is out of the norm, either by not writing enough tickets or by writing too many is going to have some explaining to do.”

This statement of yours does put it into context. That’s a the only point I was making… But to add they are “not doing their job” as you stated earlier based upon this criteria is unfair. And to say “cops are evaluated on the number of tickets” is BSing. whether from you or your source. It gives the impression that some how you now know the secret to being a “good cop” from a book.

Good evaluations evaluate the validity of traffic summons by POs, not the number of them. It’s cool to use cops as scape goats but every summons puts the cops reputation and integrity on the line.

A good friend of mine, a supervisor of the marine patrol division of the SP would tell his officers, that if they were writing many traffic summons anywhere, they weren’t spending enough time in their boats doing patrol. I hope you can see some context in this statement.


#14

I found the plate lighting requirement to be strictly enforced. I was stopped three times, by every law enforcement car I saw, when I had a burned-out light hundreds of miles from an open store that sells them. I was in a border area, near Sanderson, Tx, so that may have influenced their decisions to stop me. I was finally able to get a new bulb at Wal-Mart in Brownwood, hundreds of miles away.

As for Texas statutues, I’ll quote from Transportation Code Chapter 502

§ 502.409. WRONG, FICTITIOUS, ALTERED, OR OBSCURED LICENSE PLATE. (a) A person commits an offense if the person attaches to or displays on a motor vehicle a number plate or registration insignia that:…
(7) has a coating, covering, protective material, or other apparatus that:
(A) distorts angular visibility or detectability;
(B) alters or obscures one-half or more of the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered; or
© alters or obscures the letters or numbers of the license plate number or the color of the plate…
© Subsection (a)(7) may not be construed to apply to:
(1) a trailer hitch installed on a vehicle in a normal or customary manner;
(2) a transponder, as defined by Section 228.057, that is attached to a vehicle in the manner required by the issuing authority;
(3) a wheelchair lift or wheelchair carrier that is attached to a vehicle in a normal or customary manner;
(4) a trailer being towed by a vehicle; or
(5) a bicycle rack that is attached to a vehicle in a normal or customary manner.

It appears to be legal to hide the rear plate by leaving a bicycle rack or wheelchair carrier on. But obviously you shouldn’t make a conclusion based on a cursory glance at one section.


#15

One other problem is with the new plates some states are issuing. Saw what I think was a Colorado plate that was very hard to read, with multiple colors obscuring the state name.


#16

Regarding the ticket quotas, it varies.

When I lived in Litchfield some years ago the new police chief went on a “bender” thinking if he brought lots of revenue with tickets he’d be a hero. Then town meeting came up. He wanted to hire more cops and get more equipment. People lined up at the microphone heel-to-toe saying “we’re NOT going to give you more money so you can give us more tickets”. His budget got cut rather than increased. I thought the poor guy was going to get lynched.

I also have a friend who’s now retired from the Mass State Police. Yes, they were expected to write a minimum number of tickets. He was very candid with me about it, even telling me his “quota”.

As to the plates, in NH no part of the plate with the license plate number or the name of the state is supposed to be unreadable from a specified distance behind the vehicle. But the streets are loaded with plates obscured by tinted covers, trailer balls, bike racks, and all other forms of cover. The cops don;t seem to bother. Inspectors are also supposed to enforce this at the annuual state inspections, but they don’t bother.

The only time I’ve seen plate coverage become an issue is many years ago, just after 'Nam when peace activists began obscuring the “Live Free or Die” quote on the top of the plate. The cops started ticketing them (under orders) and the legal battles began. The regulation was ultimately rewritten to allow them to do so, as long as the rest of the plate was readable.


#17

I’m afraid the controversy over the quotas has obscured the point I was trying to make. My point was that while cops may not be pulling over every vehicle with obscured license plates, or any vehicles with obscured license plates, does not mean that the offenders are getting off scott free.

If you are going to break these penny ante laws, those that don’t have high fines attached to them, you are going to attract attention to yourself, so make sure you don’t break any of the high value laws, like speeding.


#18

True.


#19

“As to the plates, in NH no part of the plate with the license plate number or the name of the state is supposed to be unreadable from a specified distance behind the vehicle.”

NH doesn’t count. They think they are going to live forever. No handle on reality.


#20

MB…Had friend that lived next door to the Litchfield Drive-in…