Obstructing Windshield and License Plates

Can I Get in Trouble for Obstructing My License Plate?

Graduation tassels, air fresheners and fuzzy dice are but three items many of us routinely dangle from our rearview mirrors. They’re easily purchased at any number of stores, so they must be legal, right?

“Actually, police are well within their rights to pull you over for items hanging from your rearview mirror,” said W. Les Hartman, a KMHL partner who specializes in criminal defense and motor vehicle violations. “The fine is $44, but it opens you up to further possible infractions.”

In short: Once you’re pulled over, there’s no telling what the officer might stumble upon. The law, section 39:3-74, reads in part, “No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, sticker or other non-transparent material upon the front windshield … No person shall drive any vehicle so constructed, equipped or loaded as to unduly interfere with the driver’s vision to the front and to the sides.”

Even the slightest bit of material “blocking” your view can be reason for a traffic stop, Hartman warns. Additionally, section 39:3-33 allows police to pull you over for partially blocked license plates. If you’re saying, “I’d never block out my license plates,” Hartman has a tip for you: Go check. “Let’s say the dealership puts a wraparound framed advertisement around your license plate,” he said. “If it covers up, even ever so slightly, the tiniest bit of the ‘New Jersey’ or ‘Garden State,’ you can be pulled over.”

The reason these two laws are so important is because they are commonly used by police to investigate possible drunk driving infractions. You see, police can’t just pull anyone over on a drinking and driving hunch. They need to witness some motor vehicle infraction, like weaving or speeding. But you will almost never hear of someone being pulled over for these two offenses in broad daylight or during the middle of the week. When officers are on patrol looking for drunk drivers and you aren’t weaving, speeding, or committing some other motor vehicle infraction, they can use these two rarely enforced statutes to go on a fishing expedition to see if you have been drinking.

All in all, Hartman says you should just let your car be your car, and not your personal statement space. “Leave the fuzzy dice at home,” he said. “And make sure your license plates are free and clear.”