Jan Silberman’s husband, Larry, came home annoyed one day in November. A police officer had pulled him over for speeding in their West Boynton neighborhood, but gave him a ticket for the vanity frame around his license plate instead: A $163 civil penalty.
The couple living in Valencia Shores, a retirement community, had never heard of the law and called their friend, who is an attorney.
“And it was a law,” she said.
In Florida, if anything obstructs a license plate, such as a reflective covering, the driver can be ticketed. But what some may not know is even if the plate number and registration are clearly visible but a trim covers another part of the plate, the driver can still receive a citation.
If the county name or the “Sunshine State” portion is covered, it can mean a ticket, Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Mark Wysocky said.
“It is technically illegal to have anything that can cover the plate,” he said.
Under Statute 320.061, “a person may not alter the original appearance of a vehicle registration certificate, license plate,” along with numerous other validations.
In 2014, 177 people were cited in Palm Beach County for the wide-ranging violation. The data are not broken down by type of individual violation, so those who altered their decals are also counted in that number. In 2013 there were 251 drivers cited and 185 in 2012.
“A person may not apply or attach a substance, reflective matter, illuminated device, spray, coating, covering, or other material onto or around any license plate which interferes with the legibility, angular visibility, or detectability of any feature or detail on the license plate,” according to the statue.
So if a driver has a University of Florida alumni frame or in Silberman’s case a frame with his dealership’s name on it, it can mean a ticket.
Meghan Faiella said she was in the passenger seat with her father driving northbound on Interstate 95 near Lake Worth when they were pulled over by an officer and given a speeding ticket. Faiella said the officer also took notice of the car’s New York Giants license plate trim.
“He said ‘you realize you’re driving in Florida, right?’” she said. “That Giants license plate cover, you’re not allowed to have it.”
Faiella said they were given a warning by the officer, who added for good measure that he is a Miami Dolphins fan.
“As soon as we got home we researched it and it’s true,” she said. “We took it off.”
Wysocky said one reason the law is in place is to make sure plates are easily read by officers when running tags or for toll-by-plate cameras with things like SunPass.
He said another reason is it may be hard for local law enforcement to identify out-of-state plates.
“If you can’t see the tag to run it, (officers may not) know if vehicle is stolen or if there’s an alert out for another reason,” he said.
Dan Yepes, a wholesale parts associate at Ed Morse Toyota in Delray Beach, gives the dealership plastic frames away free, but nicer chrome-plated frames with the names “4Runner” and “Camry” sell for $27.95.
“You know, it’s one of those laws,” Yepes said. “I’ve never heard of anyone getting a ticket for it, but if you get a cop in a grumpy mood, they can pretty much cite you for anything.”
Yepes theorized the law was originally passed because people were putting clear plastic covers on plates that would often blur the images of the letters and numbers on plates when cars were photographed by red-light cameras.
“Because of a few bad people, it ruins it for everyone else,” he said.
Silberman said whenshe went to court she had to bring in photos of the car’s license plate with and without the trim on it. The judge dismissed the ticket.
Wysocky said under Statue 316.605, which will go into effect in 2016, the law is a little more lenient and will excuse those whose frames don’t interfere with the plate number.
While Silberman was happy to hear that the law will change next year, she said after her husband got his ticket she made sure it wouldn’t happen to her.
“Yes, I took it off my car,” she said.
Florida Statute 320.061
Unlawful to alter motor vehicle registration certificates, license plates, temporary license plates, mobile home stickers, or validation stickers or to obscure license plates; penalty.
A person may not alter the original appearance of a vehicle registration certificate, license plate, temporary license plate, mobile home sticker, or validation sticker issued for and assigned to a motor vehicle or mobile home, whether by mutilation, alteration, defacement, or change of color or in any other manner.
A person may not apply or attach a substance, reflective matter, illuminated device, spray, coating, covering, or other material onto or around any license plate which interferes with the legibility, angular visibility, or detectability of any feature or detail on the license plate or interferes with the ability to record any feature or detail on the license plate.
A person who violates this section commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation.