Safety and obey law go hand in hand for plates

Published 9:41 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ask a Trooper by Troy Christianson

Question: Your advice in one of your last articles, really, keep your plate visible at all times? You are advocating that at night, in a snowstorm, under very poor visibility, that I pull over every few miles to clean the plate? If I fail to do so, I can be ticketed? What is more important here, a person’s safety or obeying the law? I realize you can only answer this by reciting what the law is, and you cannot be on the record condoning law breaking. In my opinion, any law enforcement official who would not allow for winter time travel conditions should be given a good talking to by his or her superior. I do have knowledge of an incident when this occurred with a relative. Please do not take this email as angry in tone. Also in my opinion, the best officers are the ones who don’t always enforce by the letter of the law but can see the gray areas. Thank you for your columns, they often clarify or bring new knowledge about traffic laws. Have a good day.

Troy Christianson

Troy Christianson


Answer: Thank you for the question, and I will most certainly clarify the article on obstructed taillights and license plates.

In that article I mention, “If any part of the taillight or license plate is blocked by a bike, carrier or any other object, it is illegal and you may get stopped and possibly cited for it.” That is the simple explanation of the law and “any other object” could include snow. The person asking the question in that article stated they were “once pulled over for snow obstructing their rear plate during a blizzard.”

You ask what is more important — safety or obeying the law? I believe they go hand in hand, along with common sense. If taillights or license plates become obstructed, it is the driver’s responsibility to keep them visible. Get in the habit of regularly checking them. Most of the time, this will be at the start of your trip and at the end. If you find yourself fueling up in-between, this would also be a good time. In other situations, find a safe and legal place to pull over.

In the event of inclement weather like a blizzard, law enforcement will most likely be very busy with crashes, vehicles getting stuck in the ditch or median and assisting stranded motorists. But when time does allow me to address snow covered taillights and license plates, I’ll have a quick chat with the driver to remind them of the issue and get them safely on their way.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson, Minnesota State Patrol, at 2900 48th St. NW, Rochester, MN 55901-5848 or reach him at


Troy Christianson is a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol.