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Home --> Politics --> Traffic --> Texas Plates

Texas Plates

Claim:   The state of Texas has passed a law making it illegal to have a frame or bracket around the license plate on your car.

Status:   Multiple:

  • In 2003, Texas enacted new rules prohibiting the obscuring of motor vehicle license plates with stickers or frames:   True.
  • Said laws were revised in 2007:   True.
  • Texas has absolutely prohibited the use of license plate frames or brackets on motor vehicles:   False.
Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2003]

Are you all aware of this new LAW?? I wasn't!!

A new law was passed on September 1st that it is illegal to have a bracket around your license plate.

Brackets such as; dealership, sports team, college alumni. No brackets are allowed of any sort!

If a police officer pulls you over for having a bracket around your license plate it is a $200 fine. Yes $200... thanks for the notice!

Marvin Zindler had a special report on this last night. People are being pulled over and given tickets that had no idea about this new law.

Pass this message on to co-worker, friends and family

Origins:   In May 2003 the Texas state legislature passed SB 439, a bill relating to motor vehicles with altered or obscured license plates. The bill was signed into law by the governor in June 2003 and went into effect on 1 September 2003.

The purpose of the law was to make it illegal for the operators of motor vehicles to obscure the letters and numbers on their license plates by applying reflective material that makes plates hard to read, or by affixing stickers, attaching brackets, or using any other material that covers up a portion of the license numbers on the plates or otherwise obscures clear reading of the plate numbers:
Senate Bill 439 amends Section 502.409(a), Transportation Code, to provide that, in addition to current statutory restrictions, a person commits an offense if the person attaches to or displays on a motor vehicle a number plate or registration insignia that:

  • has identification marks that, because of reflective matter, are not plainly visible at all times during daylight;
  • has an attached illumination device or emblem not authorized by law and that interferes with the readability of the letters or numbers on the plate or the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered; or
  • alters or obscures the letters, numbers, color, or original design features of the plate.
  • The intent of these revisions was for Texas to bring its motor vehicle code up to date (as many other states have already done) to prohibit newer means for obscuring the readability of license plates, particularly schemes aimed at preventing the recording of plate numbers by cameras or other automated devices. The 2003 law did not say that drivers may absolutely not place brackets, frames, or stickers (other than registration stickers) on or around their license plates; it said specifically that plates may not be covered by material that alters or interferes with the readability of plate numbers or the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered or another original design feature of the plate (i.e., some aspect of the plate, such as the color or logo, which helps identify the issuing state).

    Of Texas course, regardless of the intent behind the law, what motorists care about most is how it's interpreted and enforced. If having a license plate frame which covers even a tiny portion of the word 'Texas' is considered a violation (even though the word itself may still be quite readable), then the practical effect of the law is to ban license plate frames, because nearly every frame will overlap some portion of the top and bottom of a license plate. And what about specialty plates — if a motorist has one of the many license plates designed to represent a particular Texas college or university (such as the Prairie View A&M University plate shown to the left), is it a violation to obscure some or all of the school name or logo, items which have nothing to do with the information displayed on standard license plates?

    We wish we could provide a definitive answer, but we haven't been able to get one out of Texas officials. The Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) told us it only issues license plates; it doesn't interpret motor vehicle laws. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) provided us with the ambiguous answer that "the new language could affect license plate brackets, borders or frames if they interfere with the 'readability' of the state where the vehicle is registered" and noted that "DPS policy and interpretation are not binding on law enforcement agencies around the state." In other words, it's up to every local police department to interpret the new law as it sees fit, and any definitive interpretation will come only once some cases involving this law have been brought before the Texas judicial system.

    A 2007 revision (SB 369, effective 1 September 2007) alters the "obscured plate" portion of the law to read:
    A person commits an offense if the person attaches to or displays on a motor vehicle a number plate or registration insignia that:

  • has [letters, numbers, or other identification marks that because of] blurring or reflective matter that significantly impairs the readability of the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered or the letters or numbers of the license plate number [are not plainly visible] at any time [all times during daylight];
  • has an attached illuminated device or sticker, decal, emblem, or other insignia that is not authorized by law and that interferes with the readability of the letters or numbers of [on] the license plate number or the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered; or
  • has a coating, covering, [or] protective material, or other apparatus that:

    (A) distorts angular visibility or detectability; [or]

    (B) alters or obscures one-half or more of the name of the state in which the vehicle is registered; or

    (C) alters or obscures the letters or numbers of [on] the license plate number or[,] the color of the plate[, or another original design feature of the plate].
  • Last updated:   12 September 2007

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