You probably notice when your car's headlights burn out, but when is the last time you checked the light that shines down on your front or rear license plate? Most of these lights are not on until you are already in the vehicle, so it can be hard to spot if one burns out. To make matters more complicated, some car models have these lights subtly tucked away or hidden.
In some states, such as California, driving with this light burned out is a ticketable offense. Tickets like this are often called “fix-it tickets." They may or may not come with fines and are a warning from law enforcement to fix the issue right away. Sometimes the fines can be hundreds of dollars or become more significant if you are pulled over for the issue again.
Knowing the laws in your state can help you avoid a ticket and prevent the risk of being pulled over and further charged for other violations.
Vehicle Codes in Your State
Every state has a unique vehicle code full of rules and regulations for cars and motorcycles. The general code for every state says the license plates must:
- Be visible and clean
- Be valid for the state you live in
- Not have expired tags
- Attach to the car on the front, back, or both.
Nineteen states only require a rear license plate, which leaves you with only one license plate light to regularly check.
These rules do not mention a license plate light specifically, but they point out that all the letters, numbers, tags, marks, and information must be clearly visible. This may or may not include having a light on the license plate. Luckily, every new car already comes with this light built in, so the issue is just ensuring it does not break or burn out. However, old cars need to have a light added to be compliant with some state laws.
Can I Get a Ticket if My License Plate Light Burns Out?
Yes, and you usually must fix the issue within five to 30 days. If you are pulled over, be honest with the officer. If you did not know your light was out or missing, tell them so. Be sure to fix the light as soon as possible to avoid getting another ticket.
If you believe the officer infringed on your rights after you were pulled over, or the interaction with law enforcement was not appropriate, that is when you should call an attorney. You have civil rights when it comes to interactions with police. You also may have a consumer protection or product claim if your car light is malfunctioning. An attorney can help you review the situation from all angles and determine the best steps forward in a vehicle ticketing case.