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License plates — also known as number plates or vehicle registration plates, are unique identifiers for motor vehicles. Most cars have plates with a random series of numbers and letters. Others feature vanity plates with a personalized phrase, abbreviation, or slogan. On TV shows, online, and in movies, license plates are typically blurred out — so you can’t view the numbers and letters. Why is this?

What is the purpose of a license plate?

Blurred-out California license plate, highlighting why licesense plates are blurred on TV, online, and movies
Blurred-out license plate | Mike Hindle via Unsplash

Before we get to the reasons for blurred-out license plates in various media formats, let’s cover why cars even have license plates in the first place. The purpose of a license plate is to give a car a unique identifier. This is similar to a driver’s license, a social security number, and a passport.

With the unique sequence of numbers and letters, the license plate links to a vehicle registration in a central database. In the central database, authorities can find additional information about the car. This includes the make and model, color, engine type, owner of the vehicle, and address. 

Additionally, the police and other authorities can also use the database information from the vehicle registration plates for various things. Examples include car accidents, speeding tickets, and other traffic violations. Authorities also use the license plates to flag vehicles without car insurance or a car owned by someone wanted for a crime. 

License plates are blurred out on TV, online, and in movies to protect privacy

Whether in photos or videos, license plates are usually blurred out on TV, online, and in movies. The primary reason for this is to protect the privacy of vehicle owners. In the digital age, identity theft is a serious problem. Scammers and thieves are on the prowl to steal your private information.

A license plate is a real-world necessity. However, when on the various media formats, many more people can view a license plate. And criminals can use it for nefarious purposes. 

Along with the identity theft problem, another privacy fear with license plates viewed online and in other media formats is harassment. Sometimes vehicle owners face harassment from stalkers and other pursuers. With this in mind, it’s best to limit the visibility of the plates.

Additional reasons for blurred-out plates

Another reason to blur license plates on TV, online, and in movies is to prevent a car from getting stolen. This is especially the case for customized and luxury vehicles, as detailed by Canadian Gearhead. By exposing a license plate, an online site or media outlet could potentially tell thieves where to find a car.

Additionally, blurring out a license plate is done to avoid incriminating oneself. If you did an illegal act and posted a photo or video of your car with its license plate online, you’re making it much easier for the police to find and arrest you. Also, if the photo or video shows you behind the wheel of the vehicle, it will be an “open and shut” case for the prosecution.

Furthermore, blurring out license plates prevents insurance companies from viewing them. If an insurance company sees a car with previously unknown modifications — or going at a high speed on a racetrack, it might raise the rates or void the coverage.

As you can see, there are multiple reasons for blurring out a license plate. This includes privacy, identity theft, protection from harassment, auto theft, avoiding incriminating oneself, and preventing an insurance company from seeing it.


How to Erase Personal Data From a Car: Avoid Identity Theft, Protect Your Privacy