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Ask the chief: Vehicle licenses must be visible

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

"Ask The Chief" allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

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Q: A vehicle was swerving all over the road, so I called 911 and reported the car. The dispatcher asked me for the license plate number, but I couldn't read it because it had a cover over it and made it unreadable. What is the law regarding license plate covers?

A: Thank you for calling 911 and letting us know we have an unsafe driver on the road. Providing a license plate number is helpful but when you are unable to read the plate clearly provide the dispatcher with the information that you can see, a partial plate is still better than nothing. Providing the state and any letters or numbers is helpful. Also provide a description of the driver, the vehicle, and direction of travel, as this information will make it easier to find the vehicle.

Since most traffic violations are petty misdemeanors or misdemeanor level offenses, the officer must locate the vehicle and identify the reason for the traffic stop.

According to Minnesota State Statute 169.79 Subd. 7, the person driving the motor vehicle shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust or other blurring material so that the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any assigned letters and numbers or the name of the state of origin of a license plate with any material whatever, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate's visibility or reflectivity. This also includes borders that surround the plate.

Also, with summer approaching, more vehicles will have bicycle racks on the back that at times obstruct the license plate, remember the license plate must remain unobstructed.

If you would like to learn more about your license plate the Minnesota Department of Safety provides an online Drivers Manual at:

This manual also provides information about the requirements of a white light bulb on the rear plate, and if you operate an uninsured vehicle, it may lead to revocation of your plates, and how to renew your plates.


1. Minnesota State Statue:

2. Minnesota Drivers Manual: