The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
I got a ticket for having not having a light on my back license plate. I want to know what’s required or prohibited, and what’s considered “illegal equipment” for automobiles.
Chapter 12 of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code is devoted to “equipment.” It lists basic requirements and some prohibitions. There are specific sections on lights, brakes, tires, “glass, windshields, and mirrors,” and then some miscellaneous provisions.
The general rule is that you can’t operate a vehicle “in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property.” A bit more specifically, vehicles must be “at all times equipped with such lamps and other equipment in proper condition and adjustment” as chapter 12 requires.
“Lights and lamps” get the most attention. Two head lights and two tail lights are required, along with brake and turn lights, and a rear license light. But, backup lights aren’t required.
Headlights can be white, or “of a yellow or amber tint.” No more than 2 head lights can be “operating in the dimmed or dropped position.” Fog lights don’t count toward that limit, but no more than 4 head lights of any kind “shall be lighted at any one time when upon a highway.”
Two white or amber “side cowl or fender lamps” are OK, along with “not more than one running board courtesy lamp on each side.” “Oscillating, rotating or flashing lights” of any kind is strictly illegal.
Brakes are required, along with “2 separate means of applying the brakes.” The law suggests that “service brakes” and “hand brakes” are the 2 separate kinds. “Service brakes” must stop a vehicle going 20 mph within 30 feet; hand brakes within 55 feet. The handbrake must hold the vehicle “stationary on any grade upon which operated.”
Tires must be rubber, “or some material of equal resiliency.”
A front windshield and a mirror are required, along with a device “for cleaning rain, snow, moisture or other obstructions from the windshield.” The front windshield can’t display any signs, posters, or window applications. But, “nonreflective tinted film may be used along the uppermost portion of the windshield if such material does not extend more than 6 inches down from the top of the windshield.” And “stickers or other certificates,” required by “State or local authorities,” are also OK.
Tinted side windows are so regulated that a brief summary isn’t possible here. The law first says “no window treatment or tinting shall be applied to the windows immediately adjacent to each side of the driver.” But, depending on how dark your rear windows are, side window tinting can be OK.
Mufflers to “prevent any excessive or unusual noise” are required, along with “seat safety belts,” front and rear bumpers, and a horn.
Depending on a vehicle’s weight, the height of its bottom, and its front bumper’s bottom can’t be more than 22 to 28 inches off the ground. For rear bumpers, the limits are 22 to 30 inches.
Radar jammers and secret compartments are prohibited, as is any video device located “at any point forward of the back of the driver's seat,” or “operating and visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle.”
Finally, front and rear license plates are required, and anything that obscures or distorts a license plate is prohibited.
Updated: April 2018