Proper Display of License Plates

BC Olympic License PlateThe humble licence plate has but one job, positively identifying the vehicle it is attached to. Without license plates, how would we know who owned the vehicle? How would you complain about an erratic driver or report your stolen vehicle? Intersection Safety Camera (ISC) enforcement and Automated Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) would be stymied and even the lowly parking ticket would have difficulty.

One or Two Licence Plates?

Most B.C. vehicles are issued with two licence plates. Also called number plates, these must be attached "one plate to the front and one plate to the rear of the vehicle."

In some cases, ICBC will only issue one plate. Motorcycles, trailers and demonstration plates would be the three most common examples of this that come to mind.

Validation Decals

Effective on May 1, 2022 ICBC will no longer issue licence plate validation decals. This change came about to facilitate on line renewal of licence and insurance. You may remove the validation decal after that date if you wish to.

To support the transition, B.C. is making a one-time, $1 million investment in enhancing the ALPR program to help law enforcement identify uninsured drivers without relying on the decals.

Licence Plates Must Be Visible

A number plate must be kept entirely unobstructed and free from dirt or foreign material, so that the numbers and letters on it may be plainly seen and read at all times and so that the numbers and letters may be accurately photographed using a speed monitoring device or traffic light safety device.

Bicycle racks seem to be the most common obstruction, but anything that gets in the way could result in a $230 fine.

Horizontal Mounting

A licence plate must be mounted horizontally unless it is attached to a motorcycle. Then it may be attached in vertical position on the left front fork of a motorcycle, with the first number or letter at the bottom of the fork.

The Licence Plate Light

The rear licence plate must be illuminated by a lamp that is capable of displaying only white light so that the numbers on the licence plate are legible from a distance of 15 m to the rear of the vehicle. The lamp must not project light to the rear and must be marked SAE / DOT L.

Off Road Vehicles

Rules for license plates on vehicles licensed under the Off Road Vehicle Act are similar to those for on road vehicles. Two exceptions are that no licence plate light is required and the plate may be displayed on the front, rear or left side of the vehicle.

No Excuses

Some vehicle owners try to excuse their choices, particularly with regard to the front licence plate. It looks ugly, I don't have a mounting bracket, the bolts are too rusted. Throw it on the dash, wire it onto the bumper, slap decorations over top, the list seemed endless. None are legal justifications that will avoid a ticket.

Reference Links:



I was following an RCMP SUV the other day with a bicycle rack holding two police cycles and a completely obstructed license plate.

The answer to this is obvious:

That police officer should have written himself/herself a ticket!

But all kidding aside, I think the most obvious and frequent misbehaviour by police is using mobile phones and/or computers whilst also driving a vehicle. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!


I was travelling behind a vehicle (Toyota CUV) last weekend which had a commercially available bike rack installed. Not only did the rack (with no bikes on it, so flipped up) obstruct the license plate, it also managed to perfectly obstruct the tail light/brake light assemblies AND the third brake light! Both were obscured by the bike wheel rails. The only lights that were directly visible were the turn indicators. A reflective glow of the brake lights would be visible if dark.

Once I got to my destination I phoned my local RCMP detachment (North Vancouver) non-emergency number and said I observed this vehicle on Highway 1 earlier. As soon as I mentioned Highway 1, they said I had to contact Port Mann Freeway Patrol and could only do so via a call to 911. No offer to transfer call either. It's not even as if I had to contact a different police department (eg: City of Vancouver); it's still the RCMP

The NVAN detachment simply refused to take the plate to follow up with the owner (who is probably a NVAN resident) as it was not in their jurisdiction! Well, this is definitely not a 911 scenario and in any case, who knows where the vehicle would be at the time of the call. The result is no complaint was registered on my part.

While rack manufacturers probably specify a vehicle compatibility checklist, they really ought to specify a definitely not compatible list. Further, when such fines are issued to the vehicle owner, if this rack was installed by a retailer, the installer should also be fined for an illegal installation.

Port Mann RCMP non-emergency

Port Mann RCMP non-emergency number: 604-526-9744. Found it easily on Google.

Retailers are not responsible because you could change it after you drive away and they are not responsible for knowing highway traffic laws (it is possible installer does not even have a driver's licence). People do this often when sent for vehicle inspections for illegal tires, lights and tinted windows. Ultimately the driver and/or owner are responsible for their own vehicle. If in doubt, do NOT make modifications to your vehicle. Besides, this is really a no brainer, folks. Licence plates are clearly intended to be displayed in a manner that can be read.

The Europeans

The Europeans take it really seriously; ire as to dirty, missing, blocked from view and the likelihood of being called a criminal.

From my side of the white line that whilst most motorcycles have plates, the font is next to impossible to make out, especially when sensory overload is occurring, such as painful noise or a close encounter, or velocity of passing, or all of the above.

I have many times, while riding my bicycle, needed to accurately note the offensive bastard's(sometimes plural-gang) regi plate, but have even found it next to impossible to ascertain when seated in a vehicle trying to take note. So it isn't just a bicycle thing. And it is really disappointing when a Constable comes up with a non matching vehicle/regi. Blast!

I advocate we have plates on the front of motorcycles as well as rear and larger too.

Like the old days in Europe. Some were mounted on the front fender, in a rather nice arc to match. Currently the rear plates are usually bigger than ours.

It seems that vanity has something to do with having an ugly necessity on 2 and 3 wheelers, but how has identification and safety been preempted by cool?

A question for this cyclist ...

Why don't you advocate having plates on bicycles, then? 

From my observations, as a group, they're the worst law breakers out there. But it seems that they NEVER get tickets, regardless of the way they impede both pedestrians and vehicle operators at times.

But on the other hand

They have to ride bicycles, isn't that punishing enough?

Should be law

Cyclists should be required to carry insurance. WHY: They use the road as much as we do as drivers. If a cyclist runs into you and damages your car/truck who pays Well you do as an insured motorist (experience proven). Some may disagree but if you’re on the road then you should carry ins and at least have a plate. Even at a min of 20.00 a month to cover damages IE: Deductible, if the cyclist crashes into your car/truck. Don’t get me started on cyclist running red lights.

deliberately obscured license plates

Gotta say that plates that are deliberately obscured with highly reflective covers, or smokey/tinted covers, or the curved lenses that make the plate only readable from a narrow angle behind are one of my huge pet peeves. I don't understand why cops aren't more agressive about ticketing these.

Conviction should be a slam-dunk: just carry a standard BC plate, photograph it next to the covered plate at a slight distance or off-angle as the case may be, and you've shown how it's obscured contrary to the law. 

Drivers who've gone out of their way to obscure their plates have effectively announced their bad intentions. Seems like really good pro-active law enforcement to shut them down by fining them every time they're on the road with obscured plates. Keeping them from being anonymous in their cars is a good way to prevent them from risky driving behaviour.  

No more decals? I guess I'll never own an orange one ...

This is an interesting change, and no doubt a sign of the times:

No more decals

To coincide with the launch of online auto insurance renewals, B.C. drivers from May onwards will no longer be required to display a licence plate validation decal to show they have valid insurance. This change aligns our province with other jurisdictions in Canada that have successfully eliminated the decal, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the North West Territories.

Blank stickers will not be given out to place on top of your current decal when you renew your insurance. After May 1, you may choose to leave your decal on your licence plate or remove it.

Importantly, everyone will need to continue to keep their insurance documents in their vehicle at all times. You'll be able to print these out at home, request a copy by mail or visit a broker office to receive a copy.

More information on online renewals will be made available on in March, when British Columbians are able to start renewing May policies online. ​

For me, this will take a little getting used to. Heck, I used to manage a fleet, and I've removed/applied an awful lot of license plate stickers over the years!

I guess it's a similar situation to the valid decals that municipalities charged required until recently on commercial vehicles. What comes next?  Will we see the disappearance of a valid CVSE Government Inspection decal on the windshield of buses and trucks, to ensure mechanical safety standards have been met?

I can understand that the governmental agencies would be eager to automate this stuff. If the cops are passively scanning every license plate to determine whether the insurance is valid, then from their point of view a visible decal is redundant. (That said, it also becomes incumbent on them to ticket the uninsured vehicle if it's parked on a public street, of course.)

And for two or three years now, drivers presenting themselves for an ICBC Road Test have been required to bring in a photo of the license plate, and/or a copy of the valid insurance document beforehand (thus freeing the Driver Examiner from having to check for validity).

And where does this leave the bylaws officers? Will they now be incentivised to ticket uninsured vehicles as well as cars that have been parked five minutes too long in a 2-hour zone? 

But this elimination of the requirement to display a valid decal also means that it becomes incumbent on the prospective driver of a vehicle (whether it be mum's car or a work vehicle) to search out the registration/insurance document from the glove box or wherever, in order to ensure that they can legally operate that vehicle.

I wonder if John Q Public (particularly Class 7 or Class 5 from other jurisdiction) is adequately informed of their responsibilities? Because no matter what the police or the government agencies might think, the driver has to be sure that they can ascertain that the vehicle can be driven by them, validly. 

'Fail to display'

After looking around on the internet, I noticed MVA Section 13.


13 (1) A person commits an offence if the person drives, operates, parks or is in charge of a motor vehicle or trailer on a highway

(a) without the licence required by this Act for the operation of that motor vehicle or trailer having been first obtained and being then in force,

(b) without displaying on it, in the manner prescribed, the number plates issued or designated by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia or otherwise prescribed to be displayed on that motor vehicle or trailer for the current licence term of that motor vehicle or trailer, or

(c) that has displayed on it a number plate other than those issued or designated by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia or otherwise prescribed to be displayed on that motor vehicle or trailer for the current licence term of that motor vehicle or trailer.

(2) Every peace officer, officer or constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the police department of a municipality or inspector authorized under section 217 (1) (a) to inspect motor vehicles may

(a) seize a number plate

(i) that the officer, constable or inspector finds detached from a motor vehicle or trailer or displayed on a motor vehicle or trailer other than the one for which it was issued, or

(ii) that is required under this Act or by a direction of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia to be surrendered, and

(b)hold the number plate until the receipt of instructions from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia as to its disposal.

(3) Subsection (2) applies in respect of number plates and motor vehicles whether on a highway or elsewhere, and for the purposes of that subsection an officer or constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the police department of a municipality may enter without warrant the land or premises of any person on or in which there is a motor vehicle or trailer.

(4) Subsection (2) does not apply to dealers' number plates used as permitted by this Act or to number plates detached under the regulations.

And it actually seems that the non-requirement to display a 'valid' plate has been in effect since mid-January, is this correct?

I'm Lost

Maybe you can explain your last sentence?

I'll do my best!

It has always been my understanding that an uninsured vehicle in BC will be unable to display a valid license plate validation sticker. Obviously, if the insurance is current, then the charge against the vehicle owner would not be 'uninsured vehicle', but 'fail to display' - with greatly differing consequences in terms of fines and all that.

But at the end of this month at midnight, according to the information provided, above these stickers are history.

Validation Decals

Effective on May 1, 2022 ICBC will no longer issue licence plate validation decals. This change came about to facilitate on line renewal of licence and insurance. You may remove the validation decal after that date if you wish to.

For several months though, here in the big city, I've noticed more than the 'normal' number of vehicles failing to display. And the little bit of research I've done suggests that it actually hasn't been necessary since January 17 this year.

Is that right?

I Think I Understand Now

"number plate" means the following:
(a) a number plate issued under this Act;
(b) if a validation decal is issued under this Act for attachment to a number plate, the number plate with the validation decal;

It does not need to have a decal on it in order to be considered a valid number plate.

In years past, they went hand in glove, but that's no longer so next month.

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