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The blue lights start flashing in your rearview mirror, your heart begins pumping harder, and your mind starts racing. You’re wondering what you did wrong to be pulled over, only to find out the light for your license plate is either out or not bright enough. This is a safety issue and one you need to be aware of, but why?

Car Pulled Over by Police Officer
Car Pulled Over by Police Officer | Shutterstock

The laws are different in every state, but for the most part, if an officer cannot clearly make out your license plate information from a distance of 50 feet, you can be pulled over. Most of the time, you’ll receive a warning and be told to have it taken care of right away. Typically, the issue is either a dim or burned-out bulb for your license plate.

How much of a problem are fraudulent or obstructed plates?

The NYPD has been cracking down on cars with plates that are either not visible or obstructed. This is due to the city’s higher than normal rate of ghost cars. Ghost cars are those that have plates not issued to that vehicle. Unfortunately, this has become a common problem in NYC, and police are forced to crack down on vehicles with plates that aren’t clearly visible.

To put some numbers on this problem, through June, police officers and traffic enforcement agents in New York City have issued a combined 13,250 parking summons to vehicles with covered plates. This is a 33% increase compared to the same time last year.

Why is it important that your license plate be visible?

Montana Vanity License
Vanity License Plate Montana (Getty Images)

Your state-issued plate shows information that police use to ensure your vehicle is legally registered. Unfortunately, many drivers with fraudulent or obstructed plates drive on the roads with you. A visible plate is one step in showing police that your vehicle is properly licensed and registered.

If my state issues two plates do I need to put both on my car?

Yes, some states issue plates for the front and rear of a vehicle; both are required to be visible on your vehicle. Sometimes, the vehicles that are vandalized with stolen plates are those with two on them. If you’re left with only one license plate, and you’re supposed to have two, you cannot drive with the single plate until after reporting the issue, and an officer creates a report of the problem.

Can I have a cover for my plate?

Tinted License Plate Cover
Tinted License Plate Cover | Shutterstock

In most states, yes, you can have a cover as long as the plate remains visible from the state’s predetermined distance. Unfortunately, some people buy tinted plates to obscure the view that police officers have of the plate information. It makes you wonder if they have something to hide or simply want a plate cover that matches the tint on their rear lights.

What can I do to ensure my license plate is visible from the state’s predetermined distance?

While many of us assume our lights and everything on our vehicles work just fine most of the time, it’s a good idea to check your lights periodically. This includes your license plate light. If you can’t read it, a police officer probably can’t either.

If you have a tinted cover over your plate, switch to an LED light for your license plate light. These lights are brighter and will help your plate stand out at night.

Next, check out Wal-Mart’s new electric delivery truck, or learn more about police running license plates and how that is not the problem in the video below:


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