NEWS

License plate covers now illegal in Illinois

Leslie Fark

A $4 piece of plastic will hit Illinois motorists in the pocketbook if they fail to follow a new law passed earlier this week.

License plate covers, a thin piece of plastic that goes over the plate, often purchased to keep thieves from stealing registration stickers, keep the plate free of bug splatter or improve the overall appearance of a vehicle, are now illegal.

The fine is $75 and is considered a non-moving violation.

The state law went into effect Tuesday, the same day Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the legislation, which is aimed at helping law enforcement agencies.

"The covers are a problem for a couple reasons," said Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard, adding his department will enforce the new law.

Plates are designed to conform to certain standards of clarity.

"Covers reduce their visibility, especially at night," Settingsgaard said. "Tinted covers are worse, but even clear covers can obscure. It gets worse as the covers age and yellow."

Another reason why the covers aren’t well liked by police is many times the tinted ones can make it hard to see from which state the plate was issued.

"When you have the green and blue (covers) they distort the Illinois plates so when officers would look at them you’d have to look really hard to identify the state," said Peoria traffic officer Loren Marion Jr., a 28-year veteran of the department.

Luckily for Marion and other officers, colored covers were banned last year, leaving them to grapple with clear and smoke-colored ones, until now.

Because the law is only a few days old and many drivers may not be aware of it, Marion says he’ll be understanding and give warnings before issuing a ticket for the violation.

"I haven’t been giving any citations out," he said Wednesday. "Most people comply when they realize now they can get a citation for it."

The other concern police have with the plastic covers, which can be purchased at many commercial auto supply stores, is some drivers use them to keep electronic equipment from scanning the license plate.

In the Chicago area, many intersections are equipped with technology to catch scofflaws when they pass through red lights or railroad crossings with flashing red lights. Also, Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Transportation team up in photo enforcement vans to nab drivers who don’t slow down for work zones.

There’s even a device that mounts on the roof of a squad car that can read license plates and automatically checks them to see if the vehicle is stolen or if the license of the driver is suspended or revoked.

Much of that technology has not made its way downstate, but it will only be a matter of time before it does, said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Brian Ley.

"With the increase of technology, it’s anticipated central Illinois is going to see the effects of the programs in a few years," Ley said.

Now that all license plate covers are illegal, will retailers in Illinois stop carrying them?

"It’s kind of like tinted windows," Ley said. "It’s not illegal to sell them, but buyer beware. Chances are retailers are going to stop selling them in Illinois."

It appears Ley’s prediction has already come true.

"They’re illegal now. We can’t sell them," said a man who answered the phone at O’Reilly Auto Parts in Peoria Heights when asked if the business sold the covers.

Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or lfark@pjstar.com.