It’s long been a peccadillo of mine, that when I buy a car, it’s not a free advertising opportunity for the dealer. If they want it to be their billboard, they are free to negotiate for the space. If not, then there is no reason for the dealership’s name to adorn my vehicle. Most people, however, don’t care.
It used to be a metal plaque drilled into the trunk of the car, which later devolved to a sticker and then, now, a tasteless license plate frame. Dealers can be so compulsive about their free advertising opportunity that I’ve had one switch out my plain frame for theirs when my car was brought in for service.
They’re ubiquitous, though most do something that has surprisingly been ignored. They violate section 402(1)(b) of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, which provides:
Number plates shall be kept clean and in a condition so as to be easily readable and shall not be covered by glass or any plastic material, and shall not be knowingly covered or coated with any artificial or synthetic material or substance that conceals or obscures such number plates or that distorts a recorded or photographic image of such number plates, and the view of such number plates shall not be obstructed by any part of the vehicle or by anything carried thereon . . ..
Bet you didn’t know that. Bet you, like everyone else, assumed that if the dealer put his advertising frame on your plate, it must be lawful. And maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t. Certainly, Arthur Giacalone, brother of my old buddy David Giacalone of f/k/a fame, thought nothing of it until the day a state trooper disrupted his cruising down I-390 in Wayland, New York.
I have nothing against the Town of Wayland’s rolling hills and farms. After all, it is “home to the Gunlocke Company, Loon Lake and the Potato Festival.”
And I harbor no ill will of any kind towards the State Trooper who figured I was being “given a break,” after being pulled over on I-390 on a pleasant July evening, when I was only charged with the violation of “NO DISTINCTIVE PLATE/OBSTRUCTED.”
It wasn’t so much that the trooper was wrong, as that this wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary. If they were going to go after Arthur, then who else? This seemed like a valid issue, so Arthur challenged his ticket before the Wayland Justice Court before the non-lawyer judge, Hon. Richard C. Tweddell.
While the argument seems rather facially obvious, Arthur gathered some evidence to make his point:
Convinced yet? No? Okay then.
Does this do it for you? Still no? Well, how about this pic from the special judge’s parking spot at the Wayland court?
Rather compelling evidence of the point, one might suppose. Unfortunately, one might be wrong.
His Honor was unmoved by my testimony that seven or eight cars sitting in the parking lot to the rear of Wayland’s court house had plates “obscured” in the same manner as mine. And he would not accept into evidence this photo collage.
According to the court, by having obscured the plate numbers for the privacy of the unwitting car owners, the judge found that the images were of no evidentiary value and rejected them.
And the fine of $75 was imposed, together with the surcharge of $93, because money, for a grand total of $168. Arthur could, if he so desired, dedicate even more of his life and fortune to the quest for justice by appealing, but he’s decided that his gas-frugal Honda Fit has allowed him to save enough to pay the tare without breaking a sweat. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.
At this point, all I have left to do is decide whether or not to contact the kind State Trooper who started this whole thing to share the scene that greeted me as I departed the Wayland court house.
Why the trooper decided that Arthur’s car, of all the cars that pass through Wayland, was the one to stop for an obscured plate may never be known. But what is known is that if a judge is going to levy the fine, plus the significantly more costly surcharge, he would do well not to have the evidence of guilt sitting outside in the judicial parking place, completely unobscured.
Right, Hon. Richard C. Tweddell? Nice Jeep, by the way.