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So I was minding my own business, drinking my coffee, and scrolling Twitter for pictures of cool cars when a quote from a reposted listicle caught my eye: “Put clear skateboard grip tape over your license plates. Yes, people will be able to read it easily, but cameras…will only get a bright blur.” Longtime readers know I am a critic–not of license plate readers–but of their manufacturers saving and selling your driving data. So of course I had to investigate whether over-the-counter tape could trick a $2k+ automated license plate reader system.

Can clear tape trick an automated license plate reader?

The folks over at ranked every potential method of concealing your license plate tag number from automated license plate readers (ALPR) and that “Nano Reflective Tape” is the best tool for the job.

A man in a suit holds up a license plate with a clear tape cover designed to trick automatic readers.
Politician holding illegal license plate cover | Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The consensus was that clear, double-sided tape will reflect the light from an ALPR’s flash, making your license plate number unreadable. The specific tape that Family Instructor suggested was “SANKEMU Nano Double Sided Tape.”

So why did the screenshot I saw on Twitter suggest skateboard grip tape (originally from Well, skateboard grip tape is another type of clear tape. It is not fully double-sided, but it is sticky on one side, and tacky (to increase grip) on the other side. For this reason, it may work as well as true double-sided tape. I have not personally tested either option.

You can also buy various other products advertised to stymy ALPR systems. These include “Photo Blocker” spray (which testers have found works poorly), smoked or “fresnel” type license plate covers (shown to work consistently), and bright reflectors you stick onto the non-numeral part of your plate (effectiveness depends on the application).

Is obscuring your license plate from automatic readers legal?

No. License plates must be visible and clear, otherwise what’s the point of having them? In every state of the U.S., obscuring your license plate–or tampering with it in any way–is illegal.

A van and silver sedan drive through a toll plaza to the Hollan tunnel, the skyline of New York City visible in the background.
Holland tunnel toll plaza | Gary Hershorn via Getty Images

If you attempt to block your license plate with a bike rack, trailer hitch, or even mud, you’ll probably get pulled over and ticketed eventually. If you put it in a special holder or use a special film to block it, you could get in even bigger trouble.

Many municipalities are using AMLPR systems in toll plazas to collect registration information and mail tolls to vehicle owners. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority told Fox 5 NY that about 1% of vehicles passing through its toll plazas have unreadable license plates. But not all of them get away with it.

Considering that almost one million vehicles pass use NYC area toll tunnels and bridges every day, 1% of drivers refusing to pay represents a major loss of income. The MTA actually has a system to hunt down repeat offenders:

“So if we have the same unreadable transaction number of days in a row, we’ll go out there, the Operations Department and try to interdict that vehicle. We also have our officers out there on a constant basis looking for covered, obstructed, obscured, altered plates…Since we really began this push back in 2017 with open-road tolling at all of our facilities, we’ve stopped and summonsed over 38,000 people for having covers or some type of obstruction on their plate.”

MTA Bridges and Tunnels Chief of Operations Richard Hildebrand

Is tricking an automatic license plate reader ethical?

If you obscure your license plate to avoid paying a toll or a speeding ticket, than eventually toll and ticket prices will rise for everyone else. Making other drivers cover you is far from ethical.

A green Vermont vanity license plate that says "Be Bad"
Vanity License Plate | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In fact, some drivers dislike these toll dodgers. One NYC resident is even taking matters into his own hands. Liam Quigley posted the following video of “fixing” obscured license plates on his Twitter:

Even if you are not going over bridges with ALPR tolls systems or speeding, it is illegal to obscure your license plate in any way. Although some of us have questioned whether the ALPR systems used by police are actually legal.

Next, learn how ALPR systems run 1,800 plates a minute or see the Washington Post’s investigation into the privacy concerns they pose in the video below: