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We drive around with our license plates displayed every day — after all, it is illegal not to. Many of us don’t think twice about our plate or what information can be obtained using it when we make our daily commute. When we post pictures online of our cars, we tend to think twice about leaving our plates exposed. Of course, there is some information you can get from your license plate, but what is it, and how concerned should you be about your personal safety?

Hiding your license plate

It isn’t uncommon to see pictures of cars with the license plate completely covered or scratched out in the image. Many people don’t realize exactly why they do this besides rumors, and yet it has become a relatively common practice. If your license plate risked your personal identity, wouldn’t having it on your car as you drive around put your information at risk, too?

front of old Ford truck with Louisiana plate
An old Ford truck with a 1951 Louisiana license plate | via Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

Most people can’t access the information

With just someone’s license plate number, you can typically find the make, model, and year of their car, most of which you could probably find just by looking at the car in the first place. Some online databases claim they will provide more information if you submit a form of payment. They typically don’t work and are sometimes even illegal, but even if you do pay, you don’t really find more information. Unless you are a police officer or government official, you really can’t get any personal information from someone’s license plate — so you can sleep easily.

vanity license plate
Vanity License Plate | via Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group

Why you might want someone’s information

So you’re obviously not going to be stealing anyone’s banking information from their plate, so what would you even want from it? The obvious answer is to identify a driver that has done something wrong. Whether it is a hit and run or some other problem, having a license plate can help to identify a driver after an accident or other situation in which they did not stop to give their personal contact information or license.

There are also less involved options like you just want to get the person’s contact information for something as simple as buying their car. This is more common in rare cars, collectibles, or exotic cars, but there are also options such as VINWiki that allow you to track cars based on the VIN rather than the license plate number, but it isn’t a national database so it doesn’t always provide the information you are looking for.

Editor’s note: Gabrielle DeSantis contributed to this article.