You could be driving around with a violation staring every cop right in the face.

By law in New Jersey, your vehicle's license plate frame or holder cannot get in the way of any markings on the license plate itself — and that doesn't mean just the numbers and letters that make your vehicle unique. If any part of "New Jersey" or "Garden State" is concealed, you're still subject to a $100 fine — even greater if it's a repeat offense.

The law is not new, but it's one that never ceases to surprise motorists.

"I'd say when I'm prosecuting, I might see two or three dozen of these tickets a court session," said attorney Matt Rooney in Haddon Heights. "It's often in conjunction with something else like a speeding ticket or an open container."

Rooney said cops are simply enforcing the rules on the books if they pull you over for an obstructed license plate, but they could bother you for one less reason if you took the time to make sure your vehicle license plate is completely visible.

"If your license plate holders obscure or conceal any lettering on the license plate, you are subject to a fine," the state Motor Vehicle Commission notes on its website.

According to Rooney, many of these unlawful frames are already installed on vehicles bought or leased from a dealership.

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, said dealers in the state know the law and "take great care to ensure that the plate frames they furnish customers are compliant."

"While it is possible that the plate frames offered by some small number of new car dealers do, indeed, 'obscure or conceal' markings on the plate, let's be honest — no one gets pulled over for this offense," Appleton said.

North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti said motorists are given a warning "99 percent of the time" for an obstructed license plate if they had not yet been warned during a previous stop.

"One of the reasons people get tickets for that is because they've been warned on multiple occasions," Parenti said. "One of the systems that we have in place tells us that the person was pulled over and given a warning."

Parenti said a partially-blocked license plate can hamper the efforts of a cop attempting to run a plate or a civilian attempting to report a crime. It could also pose trouble for electronic toll readers.

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