I Wanna Know

PW exposes the tricks, scams and truth about the powers that be.

By Sammy Mack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 18, 2004

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Q: What do cops think of the dark gray plastic license plate covers you see on some cars these days? Don't they make it harder for an eyewitness to identify a car involved in a crime?

A: "Actually, they're illegal in Pennsylvania," says Officer Jack Navickas of the Traffic Department. Tinted license plate covers violate Pennsylvania's vehicle codes, which specifically state that "every registration plate shall be securely fastened to the vehicle ... so as to be clearly visible." If a vehicle's tag isn't completely legible from behind, the owner risks a $25 fine. Last year alone Pennsylvanians received more than 230 citations for obscured plates. "I don't know why they even sell them," says Navickas. Part of the code specifies that plates must be visible "in a horizontal position," which means that non-smoked covers, if completely transparent from behind, are arguably legal. But why bother putting a perfectly clear piece of plastic over a plate? To avoid tickets from traffic cameras. Automated cameras are cropping up increasingly in New Jersey and Delaware (Pennsylvania's been spared so far) to nail speeding vehicles and red-light-runners. They take a picture of the scofflaw's plate, and the car's owner gets a ticket in the mail. Certain types of plastic covers appear clear to the naked eye but render license plate photos illegible. Devious, perhaps. But if all the registration info is clearly displayed from behind, the cover isn't violating any laws. "The people who put in the cameras are the first people to buy these products," says Joe Scott, marketing director for Phantomplate, a Harrisburg-based maker of photo-blurring license plate covers. Some of the two-year-old company's plate covers are slightly concave inside, blurring the characters on either end when a picture is taken at an angle. Others have tiny crystals embedded in the plastic that reflect like a mirror under a camera flash. Once Pennsylvania employs photo technology to catch lawbreakers, it's only a matter of time before clear license plate covers are outlawed along with their tinted brethren. Meantime, watch out for cops with good eyesight.

What do you wanna know? Send queries and complaints to Sammy Mack at smack@philadelphiaweekly.com

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