Car decals, bumper stickers, stick families in the back window – we are all accustomed to seeing stickers on cars; but, have you ever stopped to wonder if this is actually legal?
Could there be an old law out there that could get you arrested for your car sticker?
The answer is… it’s complicated.
The laws vary by state, and then on top of that there is a big grey area when it comes to offensive, distracting, or obscene stickers.
In this blog we will dissect this sticky issue and definitively answer if you can legally have your stick family waving at passersby.
Note that for the purpose of this blog, stickers refer to vinyl wraps, decals, static window clings – anything that adheres to the exterior of your vehicle or exterior/interior auto glass.
The hard and fast rules
Before we get into the finer points of whether or not you can legally put stickers on your car, there is one hard and fast rule that is universal across all the states.
That rule is: do not obstruct visibility.
This is for the safety of the driver, passengers, and other vehicles on the road.
While each state has different wording and some allow for smaller stickers on the outer corners of windshields, it is illegal to have any type of sticker that impairs the driver’s vision in any way.
This includes stickers that obstruct the windshield, back window, and side mirrors.
Small stickers along the bottom of the back window are fine, but not in the middle.
Obstruction of vision also refers to the type of sticker used.
If, for example, you live in a state that allows for a sticker in the lower corner of passenger’s side on the windshield, that sticker cannot be made of reflective, distracting, or flashing material.
If the sun catches it and temporary blinds another driver, you have created an unsafe situation and could be liable if this leads to an accident.
It also goes without saying that you cannot use stickers of any sort to obstruct license plates.
What about bumper or door stickers?
Technically, bumper stickers and side door decals are not illegal.
However, the grey area comes in when the sticker offends, is obscene, or is intentionally distracting to other drivers.
There is much discussion about what constitutes free speech and freedom of expression in America, and it is nearly impossible to define what is considered offensive.
A practising Christian may be offended by a pagan bumper sticker (and vice versa) while a parent with young children may feel offended by stick figures in compromising positions – and yes, one driver did receive a ticket for such a stick figure decal.
If you read the details of the case (graphic may be offensive to some, so click this link with care) you see where the confusion comes in.
Basically, you can be ticketed if the officer receives a complaint or decides on their own that your sticker is obscene.
However, in many cases where this happened, the car owner was able to successfully dispute the charge because the material was deemed to be offensive but not obscene.
Tickets generally cannot be issued for offensive materials (annoying and inappropriate but not obscene) but it is impossible to regulate what is obscene and what is not.
In the case of the fornicating sticker, the graphic was offensive, but no genitals were shown so technically it wasn’t obscene.
So, then, does that make it illegal to have a car decal of a nude person but legal to have a car decal of a picture of Venus de Milo?
What about a semi nude person impersonating Venus de Milo on a sticker?
This is what is called a “wicked problem” – a problem so complex and so depended on so many factors that there can never be a clear answer.
Guidelines for legal/considerate stickers on cars
Okay, it is a wicked problem, but most humans are okay with following some broad societal laws, so we can safely and definitively provide some guidelines for stickers on cars. Those guidelines are as follows:
- It is illegal to obstruct your or other driver’s vision with car stickers.
- It is illegal to put non-authorized stickers on license plates.
- In some states it is illegal to have obscene car stickers but whether you are ticketed or not will come down to the definition of obscenity in your state.
- It is not illegal to have offensive car stickers, but your definition of offensive may be defined as obscene in the eyes of the law.
- Do not distract other drivers with reflective, shiny, flashing decals or any stickers that are explicitly designed to detract drivers’ attention from the road.
- Clearly inoffensive stickers are not illegal as long as they do not impair drivers’ vision. Go ahead with that unicorn jumping over the rainbow.
What about Confederate flag stickers?
The Confederate flag is considered offensive, and therefore banned in some states but allowable in others.
Further, some corporations have banned the image from their merchandise and branding, so if you are an employee of such a company, you could face scrutiny as an employee for having a Confederate flag sticker.
Can I put stickers on other people’s cars?
Don’t do this. There are many forums online where people ask if they can put “violation” stickers on illegally parked cars or what to do if their politically charged bumper sticker was covered up or defaced with a sticker featuring an opposing view.
While you may not like that someone took your parking spot, parked in a reserved zone without authorization, or supports a particular ideal or political party, you cannot slap a sticker on someone else’s car.
This also goes for advertising your products and services or even cheerful happy face stickers encouraging people to have a lovely day. Don’t do it.
Putting stickers on other people’s cars is vandalism.
According to the Criminal Defense Lawyer website:
“Vandalism is the willful destruction or damaging of property in a manner that defaces, mars, or otherwise adds a physical blemish that diminishes the property’s value. For example, if you put bumper stickers on a person’s car, or spray-paint your name on someone’s fence, this is vandalism.”
This question has a very definitive answer. It is illegal to put stickers on other people’s cars and the act of doing so can result in a charge of vandalism.
Tips for making (legal!) car stickers
Despite the many legalities and the politics of freedom of expression, most car stickers are fun and harmless. To make your own:
- Choose a good quality material such as printable sticker vinyl. If you want removable car stickers, choose magnetic adhesive sheets.
- Design your sticker and print it out on the sticker vinyl, or print it and affix it to the magnetic sheet.
- If you want a more permanent sticker and need to place it carefully, choose waterslide decal paper. This allows you to reposition your car sticker when applying it. The adhesive dries slowly so you can “slide” the sticker into place.
- Laminate your sticker to improve its durability and to make it waterproof.
- Will you be trading-in or selling the car in the future? If so, ensure you can remove your stickers without damaging the paint.
It is illegal to distract other drivers willfully.
While the definition of distraction is broad, you are intentionally or unintentionally distracting if your stickers reflects sunlight or headlights into the eyes of other drivers or if your sticker is not adhered well, dislodges, and covers the windshield of another driver.
Whatever you choose to display, make sure it is well affixed and in a safe location on your car.
Who knew that car stickers could be so complicated?
In conclusion, car stickers are not illegal unless they obstruct drivers’ vision, distract drivers by compromising their vision, are obscene as defined by the laws in your state, or are on a license plate.
Offensive stickers are not illegal but what is offensive can, in some cases, be ruled obscene.
Depictions of the Confederate flag are banned in some states and from some corporations, but not banned in others.
Never put stickers on another person’s car.
This is vandalism and is illegal. You can make your own removeable or permanent car stickers with a few simple tools at home.
Make sure you place your stickers securely so they do not fly off and become a hazard.
Royal Elements has the printable sticker vinyl, waterslide decal paper, laminating sheets, and magnetic adhesive sheets you need to make your own car stickers.
We love to see the projects you make using Royal Elements products. Post your results online with the hashtag #royalelementsstickers so we can feature your designs on our social networks (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube). Visit https://www.amazon.com/royalelements and https://www.royalelements.com/ today to learn more.