Driving Without License Plates in Colorado – C.R.S. 42-3-202

Among the many requirements for a person to legally operate a vehicle on the roadways of Colorado, a license plate may be the one that is the most understood. Because license plates have been a part of our society for so long, even seeing a car without a license plate makes one do a double take. However, it is still important to break down the statutory language in order to understand what exactly the law requires.

Section (1)(a) states: the owner shall attach the number plates assigned to a self-propelled vehicle, other than a motorcycle, autocycle, or street rod vehicle, to the vehicle with one in the front and the other in the rear. The owner shall attach the number plate assigned to a motorcycle, autocycle, street rod vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, other vehicle drawn by a motor vehicle, or special mobile machinery to the rear of the vehicle. The owner shall display number plates during the current registration year, except as provided in this article.

Fortunately, this section of the statute is relatively clear: unless your vehicle is a motorcycle, autocycle, street rod vehicle, trailer, semitrailer, or a special type of vehicle, then your vehicle must have a plate on the front and back.

Section (1)(b) states: if the department issues a validating tab or sticker to a motor vehicle pursuant to section 42-3-201, the current month validating tab or sticker shall be displayed in the bottom left corner of the rear license plate. The current year validating tab or sticker shall be displayed in the bottom right corner of the rear license plate. The tabs or stickers shall be visible at all times.

This section outlines requirements for where the month and year stickers are to be placed on the rear license plate: the month in the lower left corner and the year in the lower right corner. In addition, it makes clear that any license plate covers, decals, etc. cannot cover the stickers as to make them not visible.

Section (2)(a)(I) states: the owner or driver of a motor vehicle shall securely fasten the license plate to the vehicle to which it is assigned so as to prevent the plate from swinging.

Again, this section is pretty clear: secure your plate in place properly.

Section (2)(a)(II)(A)-(D) state: Except when authorized by this article or rule of the department, each license plate must be:

  • Horizontal at a height not less than twelve inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom of the plate;
  • In a place and position to be clearly visible;
  • Maintained free from foreign materials and clearly legible; and
  • At the approximate center of the vehicle measure horizontally.

You should make sure to also clear your license plate of snow when you are scraping your car, because snow is a “foreign material”.

Section (2)(a)(III) states: except when authorized by this article or rule of the department, the rear license plate must be mounted on or within eighteen inches of the rear bumper.

Section (2)(b) states: a person shall not operate a motor vehicle with an affixed device or a substance that causes all or a portion of a license plate to be unreadable by a system used to automatically identify a motor vehicle. Such a device includes without limitation, a cover that distorts angular visibility; alters the color of the plate; or is smoked, tinted, scratched, or dirty so as to impair the legibility of the license plate.

Unfortunately for James Bond fans, this subsection outlaws devices that make it difficult to read your license plate. The idea is that the police should be able to easily read your plate.

Section (3)(a)-(b) contains the penalties for violating this law:

  • A person who violated any provision of this section commits a class B traffic infraction.
  • A person who violates paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of this section commits a class A traffic infraction and shall be punished by a fine of one hundred dollars.

So, the penalty for violating this subsection is a class B traffic infraction unless you employ a device to make it difficult to read your plate. If that were the case, then you would be charged with a class A traffic infraction.

Finally, section (4) creates an exemption for military vehicles: (4) Notwithstanding subsections (1) to (3) of this section, the owner of a military vehicle may elect to not display the vehicle’s assigned license plate if the license plate is physically in the military vehicle and is available for inspection to any peace officer who requests the plate.

A charge for Driving without a License Plate, like any other traffic offense, can have financial consequences and can affect your driving privileges.  Contact our office today for a free legal consultation and to discuss your case with our experienced Denver criminal defense attorneys.