Can I Run a License Plate Number for Free?

License Plate
••• Getty Images/Zave Smith

Did you just witness a terrible driver doing something illegal or annoying? Are you trying to get some background information on someone dating your son, daughter, or former spouse? There are lots of reasons that trigger the idea of running someone's license plate number to get more information on a person, but can you really run a license plate for free?

Unfortunately, running a driver's license plate number for any reason or purpose is not only impossible to do for free -- it is illegal. Do not do it. Even if you do come across some website offering to run plate numbers, it is most likely a rip-off. If you do witness a driver doing something illegal, do write down the plate number, and do call the police via the non-emergency number (unless, of course, it is an emergency). Only law enforcement officers can run license plate numbers, and they have the tools to do so.

Remember to use some discretion with this method. You probably do not want to call law enforcement because someone forgot to turn on their blinker, but if you witnessed a serious crime, you should definitely report it.

What Info Will A Police Officer See When Running License Plate Numbers?

In many large cities, police cruisers are set up with high tech cameras which can scan hundreds of plates a minute. In smaller towns and precincts, some police officers do not have the ability to run a license plate from their patrol car and must call the number into a dispatcher for processing. So what information is available to a police officer when they run a license plate number? All information associated with a license plate number only applies to the person the vehicle is registered to, but they can find out:

• Name of Vehicle Owner

• Address of Vehicle Owner

• Whether the Plate was Stolen

• Whether the Vehicle is Listed as Stolen

• If the Plate Matches the Vehicle it is on

• In Some States, Police Can Check for Valid Car Insurance

How Does a Police Officer Get Information on a Driver?

A license plate covers a car, not any particular driver, so it is not always possible to get the full information on the person driving the vehicle at any given moment. A driver's license is the most effective way for an officer to get information on a driver. If a driver's license is not available, a person's social security number can be used. If the driver does not know that info either, their name and birth date will suffice. However, refusing to give an officer one’s social security number will make it appear as though the driver is trying to conceal their identity.

Beyond the information that appears on a driver's license after running a license the officer will be able to see warrants for arrest and driving history.