The Lowly Licence Plate

BC Licence PlateThe licence plate has one purpose: to quickly and easily identify the vehicle that it is attached to. This is important enough that a whole division of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations is devoted to the subject. Fines for failing to follow these rules may be expensive as well, ranging from $109 to as much as $230.

The standard blue on white Beautiful British Columbia licence plate design does the job well. It is immediately identifiable as belonging to our province and the renewal decal system gives it a long life. Simple, inexpensive and effective. What could possibly go wrong?

Vehicles may be issued either one or two licence plates. If two are issued, one must be securely fastened to the front and one to the rear of that vehicle. In the case of a single plate, it goes on the rear of the vehicle.

The characters are required to be displayed horizontally and the plate must always be entirely unobstructed so that they can be read.

During darkness, the rear licence plate must be lit with a white light to make the characters visible from a distance of at least 15 metres.

Transfer from one vehicle to another is strictly regulated as well.

Some people are lazy. They don't attach the front plate or just throw it on the dash. Plates are left completely covered by dirt or snow. One loosely attached fastener allowing the plate to dangle should be enough.

What seems like a good idea is not. Plastic licence plate covers, clear or tinted, can prevent a plate from being read in some circumstances and must not be installed.

Other people are dishonest. Number plates are moved to their vehicle of convenience without doing a proper transfer. Plates are covered or purposely obstructed in some manner to thwart tolls and enforcement.

Even our provincial government has lost sight of the intent. Designs such as personalized, veterans, Olympic and B.C. Parks make it more difficult to read the characters and determine where they are from.

Oddly enough, failing to display any licence plates at all is a $109 ticket while obstructing a plate that is displayed costs $196.

Yes, the lowly licence plate has an important job to do. It is not logical or legal to make that difficult.


Submitted by E-Mail

I’m so old I remember when there was only one design of BC plate at a time. Heck I remember having to obtain new plates each year. No, I’m not that old guy driving slow in the left lane that you can barely see behind the head rest.

I’ve always questioned the wisdom of mixing letters with numbers on plates in each section. First section letters or number and the second section the opposite worked great. Yes there are more than enough combinations, go with 4 letters and three numbers, there’s lots.

I doubt police were consulted as to the numbering format on the plates.

Just like every time the government increase the penalties for drinking and driving. Do you think they should maybe consider increasing the fine for hit and run at the same time ???

ICBC likes to make independent decisions, sometimes not thought out too well. Like the year they decided the decals should be white with black numbers. After the first month or so they changed mid stream. Ah,,, anyone can create a black and white looking decal with a standard printer and scotch tape it to a plate. Great insight !

Is the extra revenue for the different plates all that important ICBC ?

Oh, the Olympic plates ? They were intended to be a one year plate, but ICBC quietly allowed them to remain knowing how mad motorist who paid the extra would feel having to pay a replacement fee the following year to return the “normal” BC plates.

Oh, the good old days, when there was a “normal” BC plate.

Submitted by E-Mail

I’ve often wondered about this topic and see numerous plates that are missing can’t be seen. I use a carrier on the back my car and it can be read but only if you're up close.

I read the post and all of it seems logic. Is the same logic defined for out of country plates that are not displayed or obstructed. I have seen campers that sold structure is covered it over could only be read it horizontally literally standing over the plate.

I also see some bicycle carriers that do a good job of making your job difficult. How is it a manufacture can build a carrier that completely covers the plate?

Submitted by E-Mail

We have had personalized plates on our vehicles for about 30 years now, and have never had a problem.

My only question is, why do we have to have two plates?

I don’t understand where the line is drawn, where some BC licensed vehicles can have only one, while others require two.

What is the difference, other than a waste of money MAKING two?

Would appreciate knowing the reasoning.

Two Plates

I always found the front plate very useful as more often than not, I was driving toward the spot that a driving complaint had come from. Being able to see the front plate saved both of us time and made it easier to stop the correct vehicle.

I'm sure that "ordinary" road users can come up with good reasons too. Not everyone is a driver, pedestrians and cyclists might find it easier to see front licence plates as well. Pedestrians are typically walking toward traffic.

Good Thread! Some thoughts ...

My only question is, why do we have to have two plates?

I don’t understand where the line is drawn, where some BC licensed vehicles can have only one, while others require two.

Just off the top of my head, I think this would apply to things like motorcycles (where the front plate could disrupt airflow). That said, I haven't been able to find anything on the ICBC site indicating that motorcycles require a front plate (the depictions in their Learn to Ride guide don't show this), though there is law on it, see below) and trailers (a front plate wouldn't be visible anyway unless it was parked by itself).

Vertical position permitted for motorcycles

3.021 Despite section 3.02, a number plate 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.

In the UK, the front plate on a vehicle must be white (with black digits/letters) and the rear plate must be yellow (with black digits/letters); all must use reflective paint so that a parked vehicle can be easily spotted at night even without street lighting or parking lights.

Here's a selection of plates you might see in BC; doesn't include those red consular plates though.

How is it a manufacture can build a carrier that completely covers the plate?

The manufacturer isn't responsible, when it comes to ensuring that carriers and plates meet the legal requirement. That would be up to the vehicle owner who installed the carrier.

Number plates in horizontal position

3.02 A number plate shall at all times be securely fastened in a horizontal position to the vehicle for which it is issued.

License plates to be unobstructed

3.03 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 prescribed under section 83.1 of the Act.

So the smart, and legal, thing to do would be to move the plate from the back of the car and attach it securely to the back of the carrier. I think ...

We have had personalized plates on our vehicles for about 30 years now, and have never had a problem.

So, what does that actually prove? There are drivers who have been driving with faulty signals (or haven't been bothering to use them) for years. Drivers who habitually reverse without looking behind the vehicle for bicycles - or children - for years. Drivers who have ignored yellow lights, for years. That doesn't mean they're making the right choices; only that (so far) there haven't been any repercusions. These drivers feel confirmed in their life choices, being as their behaviour has always worked for them. So far.

Meanwhile, a longtime friend of mine (who must be much wealthier than me, because I drive a 2012 Econoline) owns a couple of Porsche GT3's. A serious car guy. He drives in a sedate and legal manner all the time; but he also enjoys taking a weekend to enjoy a 'Track Day' in order to exploit the potential of one or the other of these cars. Along with many other folks who own cars in this league, he displays excellent replica front plates on the front end, that are actually 'painted' into place as part of the wrap done by some company that specializes in this stuff. Under the letter of the law, this is probably illegal. But you gotta hope that the cops won't notice, or will focus more on pulling over the drivers who stick a front plate on the dashboard (where it's very hard to spot) instead.

After all, we allow the Albertans to drive here. However badly, ha ha!

Submitted by E-Mail

Whoever it is at ICBC that makes the decision on val tag colours should be given a refresher on the importance of changing colours every year (ie so that you can tell at a glance if insurance is for the correct year)! The colour choice for 2020 is almost identical to 2019!

How hard would it be to stick to a cycle of the primary colours?

This decal is an important component of the licence plate regime in BC, and it also must be clearly visible and not covered with decorative or advertising plate frames.

Google Ads