People install license plate covers for a variety of reasons. Some covers are intended to protect the license plate, though most are decorative. A few are even intended to evade the law. No matter your reasoning, nothing should cover your license plate. Many license plate covers, specifically tinted ones, are illegal.
License Plate Covers Are Typically Illegal
Most state laws do not specifically say that you cannot use “license plate covers,” although Illinois does. Instead, most state laws say it is illegal to alter, block or obscure a license plate in any way, whether due to a large frame or a tinted cover. Anything that prevents a license plate from being read by a person, or in some states, an electronic device, violates the law. Follow the state law where you live, which should also be where your vehicle is registered.
States Do Differ on Their Laws Governing Tinted License Plates
If you live and own a vehicle in California, then you need to be aware of California Vehicle Code §5201, which dictates how front and rear license plates must be displayed and how a covering shall not be used except in certain situations. “A casing, shield, frame, border, product, or other device that obstructs or impairs the reading or recognition of a license plate…” shall not be installed, according to the statute.
If you live in Iowa, the relevant statute says something different. The Iowa Vehicle Code §321.37 states that it is illegal to use any frame around or over your vehicle registration plate that does not allow for full view of the numbers and letters printed on the plate.
In both of these states, it seems as if the statute allows for license covers, so long as a person, and in California, certain devices, can easily read the plate. There is a little gray area. However, a tinted plate cover will most likely make reading a plate difficult for a police officer. It might make it impossible for a device. Therefore, a tinted plate cover is probably illegal in both states and would lead to a ticket.
Or, your state could be like Illinois. Under 625 ILCS 5/3-413(g), it is illegal to operate a vehicle with registration plate covers. Even if your license is readable under a tinted cover, you can expect a ticket.
Read More: How to Research License Plates
Ramifications of a Tinted License Plate Cover
If a police officer finds that you have an illegal license plate cover or frame on your vehicle, she will probably ticket you. This is a non-criminal infraction. You will not go to jail for having a license plate cover, but you will need to pay a fine.
Each state has its own laws regarding license plate covers, yet these accessories are generally prohibited because they make it difficult or impossible to read your plate.
Victoria E. Langley is a legal content writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in philosophy from Northern Illinois University and a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School of Chicago. She has worked as a clerk for a boutique law firm handling breach of contract litigation, a corporate document reviewer, and a legal counselor for a transactional law clinic. She now focuses on translating legalese into everyday language for firms around the country. Her work has appeared on the U.S. News Law Directory and many law firm's sites. Learn more from her website, langleylegalwriter.com