Law bans most license plate frames

North Carolina drivers' college-themed or other decorative license plate frames could cost them $100 in fines.

A North Carolina law banning license plate frames took effect a year ago, but starting Dec. 1, violators can be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor for obstructing their license plate.

House Bill 67 makes it illegal for a driver to "willfully cover or cause to be covered any part or portion of a registration plate or the figures or letters thereon by any device designed or intended to prevent or interfere with the taking of a clear photograph of a registration plate by a traffic control or a toll collection system using cameras."

The law specifically mentions important data on a license plate that must not be covered, including the state name and the vehicle's year and month stickers, which are placed in the upper left and right corners of the license plate.

The law passed more than a year ago, but citizens still have questions about the ban's implications.

"I've been asked about that I don't know how many times," said Newton Police Chief Don Brown about the frame restrictions.

The state's decision to legislate rules about license covers was a matter of safety for drivers and officers alike.

"If you can't read anything on the plate that officers need to see, it's not safe," Brown said.

The legislation, however, doesn't completely ban license plate frames. Frames that don't obscure lettering or license plate stickers are allowed, but those frames would have to be "very thin," Brown said.

The law applies only to North Carolina license plates, and drivers with out-of-state license plates aren't subject to the frame requirements.

Police who spotted a vehicle with a frame or cover obstructing its plate prior to Dec. 1 issued a warning to the driver, as outlined by the law.

In addition, the law also outlaws anything other than a frame that obstruct the license plate, including a bumper, light, spare tire, paint, oil or grease.

The law was ratified July 30, 2009, after being read three times in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The frame requirement laws went into effect last year the same time state lawmakers banned texting and driving.

House Bill 9 made it illegal for "any person to operate a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile phone to manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as means of communicating with another person."

The law also prohibits reading e-mails or text messages while driving.
Drivers in violation of the texting ban are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor and subject to pay a fine of at least $100.

Other North Carolina driving-related laws recently taking effect:
Effective Dec. 1

Commercial driver licenses will expire five years after issuance because of requirements for meeting hazardous materials regulations. A commercial driver's license previously expired on the same schedule as a Class C driver's license.

The number of license plates which can be issued to dealers, will increase based on previous sales volume and the number of qualified sales representatives working with the dealer. Dealer plates may be used for demonstration purposes with an appropriate permit.

The use of transporter plates will be restricted to motor vehicles being used for business purposes only, and the business operator must show proof of insurance. Fines for violating these requirements increased to $100 for the individual driver and $250 per occurrence charged to the dealer or business.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles will no longer charge vehicle owners a $1 postage and handling fee for renewing their vehicle registration by mail.

Effective Jan. 1
The term of issuance for persons receiving a driver's license will increase to eight years for a person ages 18-65. A license issued to people ages 66 and older will expire after five years. The previous law required five-year renewal for those ages 55 and older.

A motorcycle learner permit will be issued for 12 months, and only one six-month renewal is allowed.