PHOENIX - Buying special license plates doesn't give drivers the right to customize or modify them, yet officials say many still do.
Now the Arizona Department of Transportation is spreading the word that those who alter plates are risking fines of at least $300.
"We want the public to know that the way the plate is issued is the way that, basically, it has to be displayed on the vehicle," said Harold Sanders, an ADOT spokesman.
Sanders said a special plate honoring the Arizona Cardinals is a particularly popular among those who make changes, perhaps because it has a black background.
"Individuals look at that plate and think it's an easy background for them to change or configure to what they want, but they can't because it is illegal to do so," he said.
Walter Olsen, a motorcycle officer with the Phoenix Police Department, displayed several altered Arizona Cardinals plates. One had the team's mascot covered by stickers creating a tachometer and the word "Cardinals" at the bottom blacked out. Another had both the mascot and "Cardinals" blacked out. Another had an Oakland Raiders sticker placed over the mascot.
Olsen said that when people change their plates it makes it difficult for both police and other drivers to read them.
"Witnesses and other drivers should have some expectation if they look at a license plate they should be able to tell what the numbers are on that plate and what state issued that license plate," he said.
In Arizona, there are more than 50 special plates available, costing $25 and requiring an annual $25 renewal.
For those who have modified their special plates, there are two options, according to Sanders: Remove anything that has been affixed to the plate or, if that can't be done without damaging it, replace the plate.
"In the case of those who have spray-painted a design or change, it's not an option. They have to get another plate," he said