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Legal use of license plates and fog lights - MessAge Media: News

Legal use of license plates and fog lights

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 1:34 pm

Question: Why do some vehicles need two license plates and some only need one? What about dealer plates? Can plates be put in a window and be legally displayed for any length of time? I see people driving cars with no front plate, or having the plate in their dash, including car dealer vehicles. Is that a law for where the month and year tabs have to be displayed on the plates or what?

Answer: Some states are different than others, but make no mistake about it – Minnesota is a two plate state (see MS.S. 169.79 Subdivision 6). Having two license plates helps officers identify a vehicle when we meet them as well as when we are behind them. Some of the exceptions of course to the two plate requirement in Minnesota are car dealers, motorcycles, trailers, semi-truck tractors and cars that are more than 20 years old (they can qualify for Collector vehicle plates, which only require one plate as well, but that’s another story – see M.S.S. 169.79 Subdivision 4).

Displaying the license plate in the dash or window of any vehicle is not legal, even for car dealers, for any length of time at all. They should know that. In all cases, required license plates have to be properly and securely fastened to the front and to the rear of a vehicle (see M.S.S. 169.79 Subdivision 7). Car dealers that use the paper temporary permits would be an exception, but not the license plates. These violations can be costly, although they do not appear on your driving record, because they are registration violations. When we see unlawful use of a dealer plate, we can charge the dealer and take the plate, then they have to pay a fine and they have to buy another plate to replace that one if so desired. It also would count against their dealership, as we notify the Dealer’s Unit of any of those types of violations.

In reference to the display of the tabs, M.S.S. 169.79 Subdivision 8 says: “License plates issued to vehicles registered (under section 168.017), must display the month of expiration in the lower left corner of each plate and the year of expiration in the lower right corner of each plate.”  The tabs have to be visible. That is something we also look for as a violation when on patrol.

Fog lights

Question: Can you give out information about fog lights? I notice a lot of people have them on and when I am meeting them on the road in the evening or at night, some are very bright and make seeing the road very difficult. Some of them appear to be out of alignment and are blinding. I hope that having people read this will help make a difference, thanks.

Answer: I have been asked this a lot lately for some reason. There are some specific requirements for those lights, but if the fog lights are aimed too high and/or are too bright then they are not legal just for that reason, even if they are in compliance with the rest of the law. All lights for vehicles have to be approved by the Commissioner of Public Safety and they have to be allowed (or required) by statute.

M.S.S. 169.56 S 2 says, “Any motor vehicle may be equipped with not to exceed two fog lamps mounted on the front at a height not less than 12 inches nor more than 30 inches above the level surface upon which the vehicle stands and so aimed that when the vehicle is not loaded none of the high-intensity portion of the light to the left of the center of the vehicle shall at a distance of 25 feet ahead project higher than a level of four inches below the level of the center of the lamp from which it comes. Lighted fog lamps meeting the above requirements may be used with lower headlamp beams … .”

Another relevant law is M.S.S. 169.63(b), which also tells us that, “When a motor vehicle equipped with headlamps, as (herein) required, is also equipped with any auxiliary lamps, spot lamps or any other lamps on the front thereof projecting a beam of intensity greater than 300-candle power, not more than a total of four of any such lamps on the front of a vehicle shall be lighted at any one time when upon a highway.”

Also, some of the lights you are seeing might actually be “daytime running lights.” Many of those are on automatically and are installed by the manufacturer. The driver may not always have the ability to turn them off. They cannot be used in lieu of headlights, but sometimes they are, which would be a violation. It is best practice to keep your lights on at all times on the road to make yourself more visible to other drivers. It’s the law to have head lights (and tail lights) on during rain – something we’ll be seeing more of in the springtime. I hope some of this information helps. Minnesota State Statutes are copyrighted, and portions of the state statutes were used with permission of the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.

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