Plates must be visible - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Plates must be visible

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Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004 12:42 am | Updated: 5:01 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

It’s about time. The House Transportation Committee in the Arizona Legislature has voted to ban any device or substance that obscures vehicle license plates. While the bill faces a long road to passage, we hope it survives.

Let’s get it straight about why government is perfectly within its rights to license privately owned motor vehicles. This is not Big Brother in action. License plates are legitimate law enforcement tools. They allow police to find stolen vehicles and vehicles used in crimes. Sometimes, as in the case of Bishop Thomas O’Brien, plates help police track alleged hit-and-run drivers. Sometimes they help recover kidnap victims. And they can alert police that they’re making an especially dangerous traffic stop, sometimes saving officers’ lives.

That a vehicle is privately owned is no argument against state-issued identification. If a car never left the driveway, maybe that idea would fly. But all drivers use streets and highways funded by tax dollars; the community at large has the right to establish rules for such use.

That’s why it is so annoying to see cars whose plates have been deliberately obscured by plastic or other devices. The intent is clear: The owners of such cars aim to frustrate the legitimate work of law enforcement. In other words, the owners are serving notice that they either are, or intend to be, criminals.

The crime may be as commonplace as speeding or running a red light, but it is still a crime. And whether it’s read by photo radar or a live officer, that license plate is evidence. Obscuring it is an act of effrontery to the law-abiding public.

Yes, we know Arizona prides itself as a haven of Old West independence. Folks tote guns in public and kids ride in the backs of pickup trucks. But this isn’t the Old West any more. It’s a highly urbanized place whose streets very much need the rule of law.

The bill to outlaw covering license plates can’t get passed soon enough, as far as we’re concerned. It will eliminate just one more tool used by scofflaws to endanger their fellow man. It surely will make our streets and highways a bit safer.

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