Can License Plate Covers Land You a Ticket?

Written by Kathrine Frich

Jun.22 - 2024 9:54 PM CET

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
License plate covers can add a touch of personality to your vehicle.

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License plate covers, often decorative shields wrapped around your car's registration plate, can add a touch of personality to your vehicle.

But before you slap on that university logo or sports team cover, it's crucial to understand the legalities surrounding them.

According to Medium in many jurisdictions, license plate covers can land you a ticket, so let’s navigate the regulations and ensure your car stays street legal.

The Legality of License Plate Covers: A State-by-State Affair

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the legality of license plate covers. Laws vary significantly across the United States and Canada. Some states completely ban them, while others allow them with restrictions. A key factor is whether the cover obstructs the plate’s visibility, including its letters, numbers, registration stickers, or reflective properties.

Completely Banned: As of March 2024, the following states have completely banned license plate covers: California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Allowed with Restrictions: Some states allow clear or slightly tinted covers as long as they don’t impede the plate’s readability from a certain distance (usually 10 feet). These states may also restrict materials or features like anti-photo radar technology. Always check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for specific regulations.

No Explicit Laws: A few states don’t have written laws regarding license plate covers. However, it’s safest to assume they follow general guidelines of not obstructing the plate’s visibility.

Understanding the Risks of Using License Plate Covers

Even in states that allow them with restrictions, there are potential risks:

  • Unintentional Violations: Covers that seem clear at first glance might become cloudy or scratched over time, reducing visibility and leading to a ticket.

  • Officer Discretion: Law enforcement officers have some discretion when it comes to enforcing license plate cover laws. A seemingly minor obstruction could result in a citation.

  • Interference with Automatic Toll Collection and Red Light Cameras: Some covers might interfere with the electronic signals used by these systems, leading to missed tolls or unexpected tickets.

What Makes a License Plate Cover Legal?

If you reside in a state that allows license plate covers, here are some guidelines for staying legal:

  • Clear or Slightly Tinted: The cover should allow the plate’s information and registration sticker to be clearly visible from a designated distance (usually 10 feet).

  • No Obstruction: Ensure the cover doesn’t block any letters, numbers, or reflective material on the plate.

  • State Compliance: Look for covers that explicitly state they comply with your state’s regulations.

  • Material Matters: Opt for high-quality, non-brittle materials that won’t warp or cloud over time.

Alternatives to License Plate Covers

If you’re looking to personalize your car without risking a ticket, here are some legal alternatives:

  • License Plate Frames: Many states allow decorative frames as long as they meet specific size and visibility requirements.

  • Vanity Plates: Consider getting a personalized license plate with your favorite letters or numbers (check your state’s DMV for availability and restrictions).

  • Car Decals and Magnets: Express yourself with decals or magnets placed on authorized areas of your vehicle, such as the bumper or windows.