Is it legal to wear a mask in California while driving?

Oct 15, 19 by Jorian Goes

Is it legal to wear a mask in California while driving?

With Halloween around the corner, it can be tempting to really to commit to your chosen character. Before you put on your mask and get behind the wheel, however, take a look at the legal implications of driving while masked.

Who’s That Masked Man?

Masks are a frequent feature in pop culture, seen most often in superhero or heist films. For both our heroes and our villains, the intent of the mask is the same: to conceal identity and oftentimes to evade law enforcement.

Given this perspective, it is clear why attempts to conceal identity are not looked upon favorably by law enforcement, but that’s not to say some have not tried. Arizona’s red light camera project provides one of the most infamous examples.

Arizona Monkey Man

Back in 2009, a mysterious man in a mask managed to rack up 37 speed-camera tickets in the Phoenix area. Alternating use between a monkey mask and a giraffe mask, when Dave Vontesmar was called in to court to answer to the violations issued to his vehicle he refused to take responsibility.

Speaking to the Arizona Republic, Vontesmar was pretty frank. “Not one of them there is a picture where you can identify the driver,” he said. “The ball’s in their court. I sent back all these ones I got with a copy of my drivers license, and said, ‘It’s not me. I’m not paying them.’”

Caught on Camera

Even though California does not detect speed by camera, we are no strangers to the controversial red light camera tickets. As frustrating they may be, attempts to evade police or devices regulated by law enforcement agencies are taken quite seriously. Any attempts to conceal one’s identity from the police is considered a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 185. The code states specifically

It shall be unlawful for any person to wear any mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise (whether complete or partial) for the purpose of evading or escaping discovery, recognition, or identification in the commission of any public offense.

Now while most of us do not consider a mask or fake mustaches normal driving gear, some readers may be more familiar with a different form of identification concealment: license plate covers.

CVC § 5201 deals with license plate cover regulations, and prohibits any covering or border that “obstructs or impairs the reading or recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by state or local law enforcement…”. Similarly, a few years ago companies were producing transparent, reflective, sprays that, if applied to windows or license plates, prevent detection from cameras. All of this is to say that the spirit of the law is rooted in the intent to deceive or evade detection by law enforcement.

Potential Caveats

Not all individuals with facial coverings are intended to deceive. Many states provide exemptions to codes prohibiting masks by allowing filtration or surgical masks, though some will require a note from a physician.

Additionally, some religious garments such as the niqab or burqa cover most, if not all of the face. Individuals wearing these garments are clearly not intending to conceal themselves from law enforcement, and cannot be barred from wearing them while driving. Religious disrimination is a violation of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

At the end of the day, decisions in traffic cases come down to the individual Judge. If an individual attempts to deny accountability for a traffic violation because their face was not visible or was obstructed by a mask or head-covering, the Judge will still have the ability to uphold the citation. Trying to conceal yourself from law enforcement may only make matters worse. There are better ways to combat a red light camera ticket, just ask our team.