This paper proposes a fast algorithm detecting license plates in various conditions. There are three main contributions in this paper. The first contribution is that we define a new vertical edge map, with which the license plate detection algorithm is extremely fast. The second contribution is that we construct a cascade classifier which is composed of two kinds of classifiers. The classifiers based on statistical features decrease the complexity of the system. They are followed by the classifiers based on Haar-features, which make it possible to detect license plate in various conditions. Our algorithm is robust to the variance of the illumination, view angle, the position, size and color of the license plates when working in complex environment. The third contribution is that we experimentally analyze the relations of the scaling factor with detection rate and processing time. On the basis of the analysis, we select the optimal scaling factor in our algorithm. In the experiments, both high detection rate (with low false positive rate) and high speed are achieved when the algorithm is used to detect license plates in various complex conditions.