State to merchants: License plate holders must not conceal information

Drivers in New Jersey are sometimes pulled over by police officers because their license plate frames are obscuring information. The state’s Division of Consumer Affairs has taken actions to address the issue by informing merchants that license plate frames must comply with the law.

In a letter to New Jersey motor vehicle dealers, the Division of Consumer Affairs is putting merchants on notice that state law requires all markings on a license plate to be legible or identifiable. According to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, a driver is in violation of the law if the license plate frame or holder conceals or obscures a marking on the plate, for example, the words “Garden State” or “New Jersey,” so that the marking cannot be reasonably identified.  

Merchants can be held accountable if they sell or advertise unlawful license plate frames or holders, or vehicles with such frames or holders, without adequately informing consumers that they may violate state law if they use the frame or holder.

“It should go without saying that drivers buying cars in New Jersey should not be sold products that violate state laws,” said Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck.  “With today’s common-sense action, we are addressing unlawful license plate frames and holders at their source. By promoting compliance among motor vehicle dealers and other merchants, we hope to reduce the number of drivers who are violating the law unintentionally and getting pulled over as a result.”

The Division of Consumer Affairs is issuing a letter to ensure merchants are aware that selling vehicles with, or advertising, license plate frames or identification marker holders that may conceal or obscure a marking on the license plate in a way that the marking cannot reasonably be identified or discerned may cause them to violate the Consumer Fraud Act. Businesses offering such frames or holders in New Jersey have a duty to inform consumers that driving with them may cause the consumer to violate New Jersey law.

Drivers should also be aware they may be ticketed for an obstructed plate violation, even if they didn’t put the holder or frame on their vehicle. Drivers are subject to a fine not exceeding $100 for the first violation or $200 for a subsequent violation and may be subject to a term of imprisonment in the event of a default.

“Many license plate frames comply with the law, but both merchants and drivers should know exactly what the law prohibits,” said Sean Neafsey, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The purpose of the letter is to provide information to dealers and also to prompt consumers to check their vehicles and avoid potential violations by removing frames that obstruct the marking on their license plates.”

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.