A GTA driver is warning other motorists after a little-known licence plate law cost him over $300 in tickets.
Chris Rowe said he’s been ticketed by police three times because of a clear plastic cover over his licence plate. Rowe’s cover doesn’t block the plate’s characters or stickers, but it’s still enough to get him stopped.
“I’ve learned that it’s illegal to have anything touching your plate, obstructing it or covering it,” Rowe told CBC News.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act states licence plates must be clean and there can’t be anything on them that prevents them from being identified by photo-radar systems.
Rowe’s plate, however, is not dissimilar to the covers commonly given out by auto dealerships.
Jason Baxter, the owner of the traffic ticket-fighting company X-Copper, says he gets about 60 complaints like Rowe’s each year.
His clients are upset, Baxter said, “because they’ve been given this dealer cover for their plate and they’re not aware that they’re doing anything wrong at all and now they’ve got a fine of $115.”
Essentially, Baxter said, you could be facing a fine if you have anything on your licence plate that’s not government issued.
While Rowe is upset with the tickets, he said he’s keeping his plate cover to protect his personalized licence plate.
“Because it’s a vanity plate I wanted to protect it from the elements,” he said, adding his plates have corroded in the past.
Applicable provisions of the Highway Traffic Act:
Number plates, further violations
No other numbers to be exposed
13. (1) No number other than that upon the number plate furnished by the Ministry shall be exposed on any part of a motor vehicle or trailer in such a position or manner as to confuse the identity of the number plate. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 13 (1).
Number plate to be kept clean
(2) Every number plate shall be kept free from dirt and obstruction and shall be affixed so that the entire number plate, including the numbers, is plainly visible at all times, and the view of the number plate shall not be obscured or obstructed by spare tires, bumper bars, any part of the vehicle, any attachments to the vehicle or the load carried. 1994, c. 27, s. 138 (7).
(3) The number plates shall not be obstructed by any device that prevents the entire number plates including the numbers from being accurately photographed using a photo-radar system. 1993, c. 31, s. 2 (5).
(3.0.1) The number plates shall not be obstructed by any device that prevents the entire number plates including the numbers from being accurately photographed using a red light camera system. 1998, c. 38, s. 2 (1).
(3.1) The number plates shall not be obstructed by any device or material that prevents the entire number plates including the numbers from being identified by an electronic toll system. 1996, c. 1, Sched. E, s. 2 (1).
(4) Every person who contravenes subsection (2), (3), (3.0.1) or (3.1) is guilty of an offence. 1993, c. 31, s. 2 (5); 1996, c. 1, Sched. E, s. 2 (2); 1998, c. 38, s. 2 (2).
Enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) is the responsibility of police. Motorists may challenge tickets by requesting a trial, in which case the court will determine whether or not a particular cover represented an obstruction.
The issue with the cover is not exclusively the reflective nature of the material, but could also be that it distorts or affects the clarity of the plate lettering, due to the material or the cleanliness of the cover. This could be the case with either a colourless or tinted cover
As for licence plate frames, the HTA says the entire plate must be plainly visible at all times. Technically, this could include any type of plate frame, but police may exercise discretion not to charge when no essential element of the plate is covered.
The Highway Traffic Act, sections 13 (2) and (3) apply to both front and rear plates.
The prosecutor may, at their discretion, withdraw the charge if you request a first attendance meeting and advise them that you didn’t know it was an offence and immediately removed the offending plate cover.
Failing this, a “guilty with an explanation” plea might result in a suspended sentence with no fine imposed — but this is entirely at the discretion of the presiding justice
Plates with tinted covers that are readable in bright daylight may be difficult or impossible to read at night. And police don’t have to wait until dark to ticket you.
Section 62(9) HTA limits the number of lit headlights to four. So driving with two high beams, two low beams, and two fog lights activated would be a violation.