Reading or Recognition of License Plates

California Vehicle Code (CVC) § 5201

A Reading or Recognition of License Plates ticket will cost you $196 and Up in fines plus $1,000+ in insurance hikes and penalties.

Officer issuing Reading or Recognition of License Plates in California

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California License Plate Requirements

CVC § 5201 addresses issues related to license plates on vehicles operated in California. The section requires that vehicles required to have a license plate have that plate securely fastened to the vehicle at all times. The license plates must be clearly visible and legible. It is the responsibility of the vehicle owner or operator to ensure that the license plate is maintained to a adhere to the state laws before operating the vehicle.

The code has extremely specific rules for where the license plate must be located, coverings for the license plate, and the readability and recognition of the license plate by an electronic device.

A rear license plate should be located not more than 60 inches from the ground, but at least 12 inches from the ground. Front license plates cannot be more than 60 inches from the ground. However, there are some exceptions to the rule that can be found in the applicable code section for specialty vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor-trailers tank vehicles and others.

Laws Governing License Plates and Electronic Reading and Recognition

A specification section of the vehicle code deals with objects or devices that prevent an electronic device from reading or recognizing a license plate. Many jurisdictions in California use high-speed cameras or other electronic devices to read license plates.

To prevent drivers from avoiding surveillance technology, the CVC prohibits drivers and vehicle owners from using borders, casing, products, frames, shield, or another device that “obstructs or impairs the reading or recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by state or local law enforcement, an electronic device operated in connection with a toll road, high-occupancy toll lane, toll bridge, or other toll facility, or a remote emission sensing device.” (CVC §5201(c)) Anyone who violates this section of the vehicle code can be issued a traffic ticket. The ticket carries a minimum fine of $196.

Exception for Vehicles Transporting Individuals with Disabilities

The legislature realizes that certain accommodations should be made for persons with disabilities or others who transport someone with disabilities. The need for a wheelchair carrier or wheelchair lift may obstruct the view of the license plate making it difficult or impossible for an electronic device to read the license plate. However, removing the device and reattaching the rear license plate may not be feasible.

Therefore, the vehicle code makes an exception if the recognition or reading of a rear license plate is obstructed or impaired because of a wheelchair carrier or wheelchair lift if the following requirements are met:

  • A specific identification plate has been issued according to Section 5007, OR the person who uses the wheelchair has a placard that has been issued under Section 22511.55.
  • A decal issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles is displayed that has the license plate number of the vehicle.
  • The decal must be placed on the rear window so that the decal is visible to law enforcement officers. The location is dictated by the Department of Motor Vehicles in consultation with the Department of California Highway Patrol.

Because the law related to this exception is subject to change, vehicle owners and operators should refer to the instructions provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles regarding decals and license plates for vehicles transporting wheelchairs.

If you received a citation pertaining to the display of your license plate, reach out to our knowledgable team to learn more about your options. You can also submit your citation for a free ticket review.