How Many States Require Front License Plates?

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In the 19 states that require vehicles to display only one license plate at the rear, most folks think that is how life should be.

In the other 31 states and Washington, D.C., being forced to mount a second license plate on the front of a vehicle isn't a big deal for many, but it sets some people off like a bottle rocket on the Fourth of July.

That was a surprising conclusion in a 2012 study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute on the benefits and drawbacks of having two license plates instead of one.

"When we first started looking at this, I never really gave it much thought about why anyone would care about whether you have a front license plate," said Melissa Walden, a senior research scientist at Texas A&M and project manager of the study.

"But apparently, there are a good number of people who are concerned about it from purely from an aesthetic standpoint, and then they try to make a justification that it would be a great cost savings not to have a front license plate."

Indeed, the desire to not sully the finely sculpted nose of a vehicle has resulted in an aftermarket business in license plate brackets that don't require drilling and can be removed. Chevrolet has addressed the issue by offering an optional, removable front plate bracket on the 2014 Corvette.

Walden said when researchers began the study they expected law enforcement and safety to be the primary benefits from having two license plates. Turned out, though, it is revenue — and not from the higher price of sticking a second slice of metal to the front of a vehicle.

Instead, the study found that having a second plate makes it easier to photograph those who run stop signs and red lights, don't pay tolls or drive out of unattended pay garages and parking lots without paying. Linking automatic license plate readers to databases also makes it easier to track down scofflaws electronically instead of having human eyeballs view every image to identify license plate numbers.

That adds up to millions of dollars in cost savings and millions more in additional revenue collected, Walden said.

For example, in Colorado (a two-plate state) on the E-470 tollway around the Denver area tolls are collected electronically. One-third of the revenue collected in a 12-month period — $23 million — came from the ability to capture information from front license plates.

The study also found that two plates make it easier for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to screen vehicles at border crossings. In Arizona (a one-plate state), 10 to 15 percent of parking transactions at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport have to be processed manually because sun glare prevents accurate reading of the rear plate. In Pennsylvania (also one plate), 16 percent of rear plates couldn't be read electronically on toll roads.

A frequent argument against having two plates is that it raises costs for the issuing state, and changing to one plate would save money.

Not so, Walden said.

"If you have two plates and then go down to one, the production costs go down, but it's by cents," she said. "We're not even talking about a dollar level, and the price is passed on to the customer. It's not like it's costing the state money because the plate cost is being passed on."

Also, users don't replace the plates on an annual basis, she added, and often keep them for five years or more, spreading the cost over long periods.

Still, that doesn't stop some disgruntled motorists in two-plate states from trying to change the law to require only one. The Texas Legislature, for example, discussed such an idea earlier this year, though Walden said it didn't get much traction. And a bill to move to a single plate is pending in the Ohio General Assembly.

Despite the cost arguments, Walden sees aesthetics as the real motivator for change.

"That is a huge argument, the fact that people didn't want to put license plates on the front of cars that don't come with a really evident location for a license plate," she said. "If you have this $100,000 car, you don't want to hurt the appearance of the car by putting a license plate on the front of it. They feel like that not only ruins the appearance of the car, but it somehow affects the value."

Though campaigns to change to one plate or add a second frequently pop up, Walden said states seldom change their license plate laws. Law enforcement officials in states that have two plates want to keep it that way, she said, and in states that have one the feeling is, "We can't do anything about it, so we'll just deal with it."

StatesDo

StatesDont

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By Rick Popely | October 24, 2013 | Comments (26)
Tags: Advice

Comments 

FlanKitty

I wish it was possible to use Euro style plates for the front (since they fit in a lot better with bumper designs these days) but that would require a unified number plate system instead of 50 states so everyone would kill that idea.

Danny

Has there been a study on how a front plate affects gas mileage?

itsjustacar

"But apparently, there are a good number of people who are concerned about it from purely from an aesthetic standpoint, and then they try to make a justification that it would be a great cost savings not to have a front license plate."

...Spoiled-brat "reasoning". Infantile.

M3

I live in a no-front-plate state. So, why do dealers poke holes in the bumpers to install their stupid dealer advertising plates??? When you take the ad plate off, the front bumper cover is already ruined for no good reason!

George

Ask for a list of how many crimes per day/week/month/year have been prevented, or solved because of a front plate?

I bet you will be waiting...
Front plates are for: LASER speed extortion, photo [fraud] extortion.

Such a waste.

Audi

i have the holes in my front bumper for a plate but i never put one on. the police don't really care about it in my area. it ruins the look of my car if i put the plate on.

SVX

I personally hate the front license plate because it ruins the look of car. I typically don’t run into may problems by not having one, but my beautiful wife seems to get pulled over quite often……..hhhhmmmmm

Six

I've lived in both one and two plate states. It seems to make a bigger difference (simplicity, potential cost cutting) that in the west the plate often goes with the car and not the owner. Coming from the east, I was amazed when my car got to keep the plate in a private used car transaction.

Pete

In Kansas, at one time required a front plate but only if you had a personalized plate. If you had a standard issue plate you didn't need to fit a front plate. They have since changed the policy. I always thought it was strange and glad they changed the law.

J

Did they study the aerodynamics' effect due to the license plate? Also the cooling efficiencies?

Engel

European style plates are possible, though maybe not easy or practical.
An alternative might also be a decal that looks like a plate - that way it can contour to the shape of the car. Although that may render it ineffective for most of the purposes a front plate serves.
I personally don't see much of a reason for front plates.

Skankzilla

Nobody sees the need for front plates other than those looking to profit from it.

If the cost of production would be reduced by cents to eliminate the second plate, then they shouldn't capitalize so heavily on those that want personalized plates. It's should be cents to produce passed on to the customer rather than a significant annual charge (here in VA).

It's profitability, the end.

Atum

In Georgia, the Disabled Veterans plates are front and rear, but the rest of the plates are rear only.

DLM28659

In NC, as in most States, the only vehicles required to post a front-mounted tag are truck-tractors which will actually be traveling through the Tar Heel State; everyone else runs a rear-mount tag.

Shorebreak

In Texas one is required to not only have a front license plate but also registration and inspection stickers mounted inside the lower left of the driver's side windshield. Talk about overkill, and a safety issue, in that it interferes with vision out the windshield.

FordTough

My truck is made to use a front plate, so I put this on,

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/412flzhpt%2BL._SY300_.jpg

Obviously Tupac Hunter doesnt own a RX-8.

Troy S.

My classic car didn't have a front plate mount and I refused to put one on it while living in a two plate state. I was pulled over for it once but was let go because the age of the car. No way am I drilling into a classic!

Mr. Ohio

I live in a 1 plate state, but I have a Replica Ohio License Plate on the front of my Chevy HHR. The Number Reads OHIO STATE. It's placed on there by choice, Not by law.

Very informative blog Corten plates

Please try to remember that law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from (accountability) having front license plates. New phone apps will allow real time streaming of dangerous drivers to 911 centers for prosecution. Protection of family is more important than careless/selfish, distracted, or dangerous drivers. Front plates make a vehicle more visible for capture and preservation of photographic evidence since glare and other conditions can prevent a rear plate from being readable. A common requirement for higher visibility/readability needs to be available across states.

Michael S.

I live in Arizona, a one-plate state, but they issue you two plates! Why? As for the dealers ugly advertising plate, you paid for that car, unless they want to pay you to be a billboard for them, make them take it off! I have worked in advertising all my life and it is amazing how many people buy a new car and leave the ugly license plate holder from the dealer on the car, after he just made lots of money from you! Take it off!

John G.

WORSE than front plates are those damn dealer decals they stick on the trunk lid or adjacent ! I have No interest in being a billboard for a dealer AND ruining the look of the rear of my vehicles !

A. Hamilton

I know that feeling, John G. My TrailBlazer came with a decal rather than a badge. Though I do believe with a heat gun on low heat you can get the adhesive to let loose, mine's close to the TrailBlazer badge and that too might loosen with the heat gun. Such is life.

Hatefrontplates

When I got my car, Mercedes GLK350 about 10 months ago, they said I didn't really need to have a front plate. I have no good place on my front bumper to mount a plate. There are no pre-drilled holes in the front. I am a law abiding citizen and while driving 38 MPH in a 40 zone, looked in my rear view mirror and see a police officer zoom up at what looked to be 20 MPH over the speed limit to pull me over for not having a plate mounted in the front. I received a $57 fine for violating a law I did not know existed. I would rather not take a power drill to drill holes in a such a nice bumper but see no way beyond it.

K. JACOBSON

Why do they need a front plate? If I'm running from the law, they are only going to need to see my back plate.

nonya

Hatefrontplates, just have your car registered in another state that doesn't require front plates. That is exactly what I would do if I lived in a state that required front plates.

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