License Plate Laws

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 License Plate Laws

A license plate is a tag that identifies a vehicle. The primary purpose of license plates is so that law enforcement officers and witnesses can quickly and accurately recognize vehicles in the event of a traffic violation, crash, or other emergencies.

The primary requirements for automobile license plates are very straightforward. Specifically:

  • The plate should be currently valid and visible.
  • The plate should be mounted to the car in the proper place to be free of obstruction.
  • All of the numbers and letters should be visible, and any other identifying markers.

Plates should be cleaned periodically and checked to ensure they are free of debris, mud, or dirt. Some states have banned the plastic covers sold to cover the license plate, as they can cause glare or reflection that could be treacherous for other drivers.

How Far Must the License Plate Be Visible From?

50-250 feet is generally the minimum requirement for a license plate to be visible. Some states say license plates must be visible 25 yards away without sight correction. The plate itself must be viewable.

Am I Allowed to Customize My License Plate?

A customized license plate allows a driver to choose specific numbers, letters, or phrases to be added to their plates. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) staff must approve customized license plates. The DMV allows customized or personalized license plates, usually accompanied by a yearly fee. Nevertheless, the DMV discourages drivers from making adjustments or changes to license plates, such as filing them down or trimming the edges so that they are smaller.

The penalty for switching license plates varies by state. You could be cited for improper registration, or your car could be towed. If you have an accident, you could be sued if you have no insurance.

Driving with a plate for the wrong vehicle is a statutory violation and a class 3 misdemeanor in many states. You may incur fines and some minimal jail time if you have prior criminal convictions.

Do All States Require Both Front and Rear License Plates?

No. There are some states that require front license plates. 31 states require both front and rear license plates, while the remaining 19 only require rear license plates. Automobile manufacturers and front license plate laws by state forbid distributing cars with only one license plate in states that require both.

The states that require only the rear license plate are:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

If your state requires both front and rear plates, you should ensure both are displayed, and your registration is current.

What Is the Penalty for a License Plate Violation?

If you have broken license plate laws, it will usually result in a traffic ticket. In some states, violations of license plate provisions are generally considered “fix-it” tickets. This means that the driver will usually be let free without fees if they promptly fix the license plate.

In other states, a transgression of a license plate provision can be accompanied by a fine, usually from $100-$200. Repeat offenses can result in more extreme consequences, such as increased fines or suspension of driving privileges.

Most moving violations are not considered crimes, so the penalties do not include jail time. Rather, they are only infractions. Conviction of moving violations will carry a fine and increase car insurance rates. However, it will appear only on a person’s driving record and not on their criminal record. There are exceptions, of course.

The laws for moving violations vary by state, county, and city, making it essential to be informed of local regulations.

In some circumstances, a traffic offense might result in a person being charged with a misdemeanor, a criminal offense that can be punished by up to a year in jail or a fine. Traffic offenses might bring a misdemeanor criminal charge if the violation injures individuals or property. Even if the result of the violation is only a “near-miss,” it might be charged as a misdemeanor.

A ticket generally will include a court date and time and possibly the fine amount. Accepting a ticket is not the same as admitting that a person is guilty of the offense.

In some states, a person who has been ticketed for a moving violation will be given the choice of attending a driving program or traffic school. The moving violation is removed from the person’s record when the program is finished.

After a person has received a violation, their options include:

Admit Guilt
Admitting guilt for the speeding or moving violation is generally done by entering a guilty plea. A person can also plead no contest, which has the same effect. The only distinction is that if a person pleads no contest, they are not saying they are guilty. Instead, they say that they do not desire to contest the charge. Whether a person pleads guilty or no contest, they pay the specified fine for the offense. This usually involves sending a check to an address designated on the citation. Or, it might be payable online.

Contest the Ticket
If a person wants to contest the ticket, they plead not guilty. In court, the individual must challenge the evidence offered by the officer who issued the ticket. A person would do this by offering witness statements, photographs of the area, and a compelling argument as to how it is that the individual did not commit the offense and that the officer’s evidence is faulty and cannot be accepted. If a person wants to contest the violation, the ticket usually includes directions on notifying the court that a person wants a court hearing.

Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer
If a person truly feels that they did not commit the violation, they can hire a traffic attorney. A lawyer can get the ticket dismissed or challenge the officer’s evidence. For instance, if the officer caught the individual speeding with a radar gun, a lawyer might be able to get the device tested to see if it was calibrated correctly. This is the type of defense that an experienced attorney might be able to mount.

Attend Traffic School or Other Available Options for Avoiding the Offense
In states where traffic school is available, it usually works by requiring the ticketed individual to pay the ticket and attend traffic school. In this way, the individual avoids getting points on their driving record, leading to heightened auto insurance premiums and issues with their driver’s license.

When Am I Required to Surrender My License Plates?

The DMV may require the driver to surrender their license plates in some instances. This means that the driver will no longer be permitted to operate that particular automobile. This is usually the case when the driver cannot provide evidence of the driver’s car insurance.

If the DMV has requested a driver surrender their license plates, they should do so without delay. This may involve removing any attachments used for mounting, such as frames, screws, or other hardware. Failure to surrender license plates when requested to do so could result in a suspended driver’s license and revoked registration.

Do I Need an Attorney for License Plate Issues?

An experienced attorney can help you with your legal issues. If you have a dispute over the license plate laws, you should strongly consider contacting an attorney. Having proper license plates is a condition for driving in all states, and violations of license plates requirements can result in severe penalties. Suppose you have a question regarding the proper placement or displaying of license plates. In that case, you should contact a traffic violation attorney or your local DMV to determine your state’s requirements.

Many traffic ticket lawyers will charge an hourly rate to represent a person in court to fight a ticket for a moving violation. Others may charge a flat fee. A person should not hesitate to ask a lawyer straightforwardly what the fee is for hiring them.

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