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How to avoid getting a charge for having your licence plate “obstructed”

How to avoid getting a charge for having your licence plate “obstructed”

There are over 9 million cars on the road in Ontario. Each day a new car is purchased and added to our roadways. The excitement of getting a new car, or even your first car, is a moment very few forget. After the stressful search of trying to find the perfect car, the joy you have is going to pick up the freshly cleaned ride you have decided to purchase. Most dealerships will take care of everything you need to do to hit the road the second you have secured the keys to your vehicle. THis includes registering the vehicle, obtaining licence plates and licence plate stickers for the vehicle, so is it considered legal to drive in Ontario. 

While performing this service, it appears to be an industry standard that a promotional licence plate cover secures the plate on the newly purchased vehicle, while also advertising and promoting the dealership that made the sale. Most people do not regularly remove their plates and therefore the cover remains on well after leaving the dealership. The driver simply renews their licence plate sticker, attaches a copy to the licence plate and away they go. Without a need to remove a promotional cover to attach the sticker, they can easily remain on the car until the car for years to come.

What many don’t realize about these cover’s is that they could actually invite a police officer to conduct a traffic stop on your vehicle that could result in a ticket for $110 and a conviction on your driver’s abstract. In this blog post we will cover:

  • Everything you need to know about the law surrounding this charge
  • Common situations that result in tickets 
  • How to avoid getting them, 
  • How to fight these tickets if you have received one. 

The Law 

In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) sets out the duties and responsibilities of drivers in Ontario as well as the penalties for contravening the Act. 

Section 13 (2) of the Highway Traffic Act states:

Number plate to be kept clean

(2) Every number plate shall be kept free from dirt and obstruction and shall be affixed so that the entire number plate, including the numbers, is plainly visible at all times, and the view of the number plate shall not be obscured or obstructed by spare tires, bumper bars, any part of the vehicle, any attachments to the vehicle or the load carried.  1994, c. 27, s. 138 (7).

The law makes it very clear that the plate shall be “kept free from dirt and obstruction”. It appears black and white. No dirt or obstruction and you’ll be fine. However, a grey area quickly opens up when it comes to this charge and I will tell you why. 

in Ontario, the enforcement of the law is made by police officers. Police officer’s each have their own discretion while on enforcement regarding what charges they serve, and why they do so. This results in driver’s being charged for an offence when maybe they shouldn’t have been. It is not that the officer is trying to give you a charge you don’t deserve, either, the officer simply interprets the law in a way that he believes you are guilty of the offence. Fortunately, the law provides us the opportunity to dispute the matter and discuss with a trained legal professional (i.e. Prosecutors; Though keep in mind not all are trained legal professionals. In Ontario it is not required for a Prosecutor to have any legal training). 

In court, you can expect legal arguments on what the interpretation of “dirt” and especially, “obstruction” mean. If the Prosecution cannot prove there was “dirt” or an “obstruction”, they will not be able to secure a conviction. For this reason, the issue of what these words mean will be of utmost important to the court.

Let’s use an example to make things more clear. It seems pretty clear that having your plate covered in dirt would make it so it was not “plainly visible” and a charge would follow as it is clearly a breach of the section. However, let’s say you drive through a construction zone, collecting dirt particles (dust) on your vehicle and as a result, on the license plate as well. The plate is not covered in dust, although still visible. Does the driver deserve a charge? One officer may say yes, and one may say no. This is the grey area this section of the Highway Traffic Act establishes. 

Another example is an officer that believes the entire plate should be plainly visible, not just the numbers of the licence. This means the officer believes that if any part of your plate is covered, such as the “Yours to Discover” slogan at the bottom of the plate, that a charge should follow. This is clearly not in line with the law and once discussed with a trained legal professional, the charge should be withdrawn as it is ONLY the numbers that must be plainly visible. 

Common Examples of Tickets

Having snow or mud covering the plate: A common example of this charge is when your plate is obstructed through no fault of your own, but requires responsibility and attention to ensure it doesn’t happen for a sustained amount of time. Be careful your plate does not become covered by snow after a snowfall or mud when doing things offroad for instance. 

Use a dealership plate cover: Using a plate cover provided by the dealership could result in an officer mistakenly giving you the ticket if the plate cover obstructs any of the licence plate.

Use a tinted plate cover: Despite being able to buy store bought licence plate covers and tinted covers, they can lead you to being charged for having your plate obstructed. 

Actively trying to hide licence plates with truck hatch, protective film or other means: With toll roads taking photographs for payment, Red Light Camera tickets and Speed Radar cameras, it has led drivers to try and obstruct their plates intentionally to hide the plate from these cameras. This is a surefire way to obtain a ticket for the charge. Prepare to get legal advice.

How to avoid getting them

Remove any dealership plate cover of tinted after-market covers from your vehicle

Ensure the entire plate is visible

After a snow storm ensure your vehicle is clear of all snow

If your vehicle is covered in mud, odds are, your licence plate is too, get out and clean it off to avoid a ticket.

Do not try and hide your licence plate from surveillance cameras.

What to do if you’re charged?

If you have been charged with an offence under Highway Traffic Act for “Obstruct Plate” you will want to consider disputing the ticket. Certainly if the officer laid the charge in error and you were not actually obstructing the view of the plate. 

OTD legal offers a free consultation to get the information you need on how to proceed. Contact OTD Legal today. 

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