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Tinted licence plate covers look cool – what's the legal status of them in Ontario? – Ian Boyle

Can they take a tint in Ontario? The law's unclear on tinted plates specifically, but if police decide they can't read your plate, you could get an $85 fine.

"The use of these products may place individuals in contravention of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA)," said Bob Nichols, Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman, in an e-mail. "Section 13 of the HTA prohibits the obstruction of licence plates by 'any attachments' to the vehicle or any device that would prevent the plates from being read by a law enforcement officer, electronic toll system, photo radar, or red light camera."

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So while the law doesn't specifically mention a tint, it would be up to the officer's discretion. You could get the fine – plus a $25 surcharge. Or, you could get off with a warning.

You'd also be breaking the law "if a licence plate cover obstructs the licence plate by reflecting headlights, or where a licence plate or plate cover is dirty, damaged, or discoloured and the licence plate is not clearly visible," Nichols said.

And what about clear plastic covers?

"So long as the entire plate is visible at all times, to any person or device, the option to use a clear [cover] shall be left up to the individual," Nichols said.

Again, if an officer decides the cover could obstruct your plate, you could be charged.

In 2014, there were 3,078 convictions in Ontario for obstructing plates under all the relevant HTA sections, the MTO said. The average for the five years from 2010 to 2014 was nearly 2,900. The numbers don't specify when plate covers were involved.

The laws are similar in other provinces. In British Columbia, for instance, it's a $230 ticket under section 3.03 of the Motor Vehicle Act.

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"Licence plates in B.C. must be unobstructed – this is where someone covering their plate with a plastic cover could run into a bit of trouble," said Const. Jason Doucette, Vancouver police spokesman, in an e-mail. "It's important that plates be visible and readable from all angles, as designed. A lot of the covers are used in an attempt to defeat toll cameras from accurately capturing their plate in order to avoid financial costs."

Police could be put in danger "if they have to step into traffic or make manoeuvres to get a clear view of a plate that is modified or obstructed," Doucette said.

In Quebec, it's a $30 fine to obstruct a licence plate under Article 32 of the Highway Safety Code. But, there's also a steeper fine – $500-$1,000 – under Article 333 for interfering with a photo radar or red light camera's ability to read a licence plate.

And, "but I bought it at Canadian Tire, officer" won't get you out of the ticket.

"It doesn't matter if you bought it legally somewhere – they sell cars that can go 200 km/h even though the speed limit is 100 km/h," said Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau with the Súreté du Québec. "It's you who are responsible – not the guy who sells it to you or the guy who fixes it to your car."

So why do they sell them at Canadian Tire – and other places?

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"Licence plate covers are commonly used for protection, while frames are used to preserve the novelty of a plate," said Stephanie Cangelosi, Canadian Tire spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "Both come with legal disclaimers on the packaging that urge customers to review their provincial laws prior to using."

In reviews on the Canadian Tire website, some users said they were warned by police – and others said they were ticketed – for driving with the covers.

If the goal is to confuse toll and radar cameras, it's not clear that covers – or things like license plate spray – work. At least, according to MythBusters.

"MythBusters determined that the only way to fight speed cameras was with speed itself – and lots of it," the show's site said. "So, in theory, you can crank up a hot rod capable of speeds greater than (333 km/h) and beat the camera – well, until you're nabbed for reckless driving and excessive speeding, that is."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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