With the exception of those with vanity plates, most people don’t put much thought into their license plates. Just secure them to the car and go, right?
Turns out there are a lot of rules for license plates in both New York and New Jersey that can result in a traffic ticket. Most of the rules involve ensuring that police can see the plates and read them easily. They also help make sure speed cameras, red-light cameras, and EZ pass plate readers can do their job.
Here are just a few examples.
1. One plate in front, one in back. Both NY and NJ require motor vehicles to have two license plates—one on the front of the vehicle and one on the back. This applies to all classes of street vehicles except motorcycles, which only require one in the back.
2. Make sure it’s secure. Many people drive around with license plates in the rear window or front window. But unless the plate is secured—meaning fastened in some manner so that it cannot move—a driver can get a ticket. The reason for this is simple: If the plate is loose, dangling or even wobbling a bit, then police (and cameras) may not be able to see it clearly.
3. A plate in the window. Even if a license plate is secured to a person’s window in some way, the driver can still get a ticket. Under NY VTL 1213 and N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 it is illegal to have anything blocking any part of a driver’s front or rear window.
4. Not too high, not too low. A license plate cannot be higher than 48 inches above the ground and it cannot be less than 12 inches from the ground. Both NY and NJ have these exact requirements.
5. Let there be light. Lots of drivers don’t even realize that there are one or more small lights around each license plate that allows the plate to be easily seen and read at night or in tunnels. If a vehicle lacks “adequate illumination” for the license plate, the driver can get a ticket.
6. Snow away. When clearing snow from one’s vehicle, it is important to remember to remove snow from around the license plate too. All the letters/numbers must be visible. At night that may mean having to gently chip away ice from plate lights.
7. Leave it uncovered. Amazon and some auto parts retailers sell glass or plastic covers for license plates. Some openly advertise that they can get someone out of speed and red-light camera tickets. Unfortunately, NY and NJ law expressly forbids drivers from using them. NY’s statute specifically states that plates “shall not be covered by glass or any plastic material, and shall not be knowingly covered or coated with any artificial or synthetic material or substance that conceals or obscures such number plates or that distorts a recorded or photographic image of such number plates.”
8. Rightside up. Earlier this year, a motorcyclist in New Jersey learned the hard way that, while flipping a license plate upside may look “cool,” it is definitively illegal. The court fined him $139, arguing that “[a]n upside-down plate clearly impedes law enforcement’s ability to perform its duties.” Specifically, it makes it hard for police to clearly read the plate numbers.
9. Moving or parking. In New York, license plate tickets can be either a moving violation or a parking violation. If the vehicle is being operated when police notice the violation, then the ticket is considered a moving violation. If it is parked on a public roadway, then it is considered a parking ticket. The difference doesn’t really affect the driver—instead, it mostly matters who gets the money for the ticket.
Thankfully, none of these violations can result in a ticket if the vehicle is parked on a private residence (e.g. one’s driveway). Otherwise, a NY license plate ticket can result in a fine of up to $200. In New Jersey, it can cost up to $100. A person with fake license plates can be fined up to $500 in either state.
Thankfully, license plate violations are no-point offenses and are unlikely to affect one’s insurance rates. However, any license plate violation can be cause for a traffic stop which can lead to further traffic tickets or even criminal charges.
For example, an officer who smells alcohol or drugs would have grounds to conduct a sobriety check. In the latter case, the officer would have probable cause to search for drugs. Any drugs, weapons, or other illegal items can result in being charged with the relevant crime.