Ask A Trooper

Sgt. Jesse Grabow

Question: My granddaughter had a project where she was trying to locate the license plates from all the different states. In our effort to help her we noticed that many license plates have a frame around them that obscures the actual state and only the numbers and letters are visible. Also we saw many license plates that have a type of shade over it. If police are provided a license number of a hit-and-run car but the person doesn’t see what the state the car is from, are they still able to identify the car? Is it legal to have something masking or obscuring part of the license plate information?

Answer: Minnesota law states that the license plates cannot be obstructed and lays out how license plate registration is to be displayed. You can have a license plate frame but it cannot obstruct the needed information.

License plates cannot be displayed in the front windshield or the rear window, they must be displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle. All plates must be securely fastened so as to prevent them from swinging, displayed horizontally with the identifying numbers and letters facing outward from the vehicle, and mounted in the upright position. The person driving the motor vehicle shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust, or other blurring material (dirt, mud, snow, etc.) 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 obstructing license plate brackets that block the state of issuance and tabs.

License plates issued to vehicles must display the month of expiration in the lower left corner of each plate and the year of expiration in the lower right corner of each plate.

To answer your question: We can identify a vehicle using the license plate number without knowing what state it is from, but it makes it more difficult and can take up significant time. It is not uncommon for those involved in criminal activity to obstruct license plates.

A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205.  (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at,