Section 402 (1) (b) of Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) has been amended effective Nov. 1, 2021, to increase fines for knowingly covering or coating license plates with material or substance that conceals, obscures or distorts the plates by any part of the vehicle, or anything carried thereon. Now, the fine is not less than $50 or more than $300.
Vehicle owners violate this section of VTL for various reasons, some without knowing that they are in violation. An example of this is those owners who put a clear plastic covering on their license plates with the intention of keeping the plates in good condition, but this is illegal and has been for years. Now, if caught and convicted, the minimum fine is increased from $25 to $50, and the maximum amount is raised from $200 to $300. Remember, to these fines you must also pay the surcharges, which may easily be higher than the fine.
Parts of the revised section of VTL state: “Number plates shall be kept clean and in a condition so as to be easily readable and 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.”
Furthermore, the view of such number plates shall not be obstructed by any part of the vehicle or by anything carried thereon, except for a receiver-transmitter issued by a publicly owned tolling facility in connection with electronic toll collection when such receiver-transmitter is affixed to the exterior of a vehicle in accordance with mounting instructions provided by the tolling facility.
With electronic tolls on toll highways and bridges, license plates must be readable by the cameras for billing purposes. I recently drove on the NYS Thruway (I-90) between Syracuse and Rochester and did not encounter any toll booth, entering and exiting the highway at 65 mph. Although I have E-Z Pass, and my toll was deducted from my balance, if I did not have the E-Z Pass, I would receive a bill in the mail. These electronic tolls are becoming much more common, as toll booths and collectors are being phased out.
Earlier in this article I gave an example of vehicle owners that cover their plates with clear plastic, not knowing that it is illegal. But, in the era of electronic tolls, and of police cars with license plate readers, some drivers may try to flout the tolls or deceive enforcement officers the ability to run a vehicle’s number plates for wants and warrants. Thus, sanctions for knowingly obscuring your license plates are now higher.