Hundreds caught with illegal plates

SINGAPORE - They are bright, stylish - and illegal.

And they are hot, so much so that some car owners are willing to risk a jail term of up to three months just so they could have number plates that look good even though they do not conform with Land Transport Authority (LTA) stipulations.

The LTA told my paper that 726 drivers were caught with illegal number plates in the first four months this year. For the whole of last year, only 2,039 were caught.

A spokesman for Car workshops that such number plates are still flying off the shelves despite the severe penalty.

On the average, the workshops receive between 35 and 50 requests per month from drivers wanting illegal number plates - which can cost between $40 and $65 each, depending on the size and design.

A Autozone Motoring spokesman said: "There will always be a demand for fancy number plates that are illegal.

"The approved ones have too many restrictions in terms of how they should look and how big they should be."

One workshop operator said: "Customers are willing to take the risk even after we tell them the number plates are not approved ones.

"To them, how their car looks is more important."

Another reason smaller plates appeal to drivers is to avoid detection by the authorities.

Illegal number plates that use reflective fonts and contain ornamental marks alongside the vehicle's registration number may make it difficult to read the car's plates when the vehicle is moving, for example, when it is involved in a hit-and-run accident.

A staff member of a workshop, who declined to be named, said: "The majority of the drivers come with heavily modified cars they use in illegal races and the smaller the number plates, the harder it would be for the Traffic Police to read them."

According to LTA guidelines on the One.Motoring website, approved number plates should have letters and figures that are 70mm high, 50mm wide and 10mm broad.

However, illegal plates usually have fonts that are between 10mm and 15mm smaller than stipulated by the LTA.

A spokesman for LTA said drivers caught with number plates that do not conform to requirements face a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to three months.

In addition, the drivers would have to have the defective plates made good within seven days or risk facing a maximum fine of $2,000 or six months' jail - the penalty for repeat offenders.

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