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 (45)
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.

Ray

I agree, Howard DeLaCruz-Bancroft, itsjustacar, and others; front plates are great, and only criminals and fools would oppose them! In that spirit, I think that we should mandate that everyone wear a 6"x10" retroreflective card across the back of their pants with a unique citizen identification number, and the same across the front of their shirt. Of course, we'll need to mandate the specific location and orientation of those for optimum readability for overhead cameras, and some people (shapely women in particular) will admittedly be covering some of their most attractive features. Most men and plain looking women won't look much worse, though, so we'll just marginalize those who do. Yes, you'll need to stab holes in your expensive clothes as soon as you buy them so that you can attach your identification card, but that's no big deal!

This will greatly enhance the ability of law enforcement to capture criminals. Since it makes the cops' jobs easier to automate with computers, any argument against it would be stupid. Rejecting it on an aesthetic basis would be silly, of course, because I don't care much for clothes, and don't put a lot of thought or meaning into my clothes, so therefore anyone who does is being illogical and vain.

Big Sister

I am a female and I like the two plate system. IT IS SECURITY for me. If I have an angry driver behind me or feel uncomfortable with a creep, I can read his plates in the rear view mirror.

Stan

I have a 2012 Jag. Yesterday, in Virginia, I received ticket for no front tag. I am trying to determine where I could put a tag as every location will either negate the radar systems i.e. collision avoidance, adaptive cruise or prevent airflow into the radiator.
Any ideas?

@Stan For the time being just put the plate in the windshield on the passenger side. If you are pulled over for having it like this simply say you are working on a way to mount it and explain why. From all I can find out there is nothing in the plate laws that specify the plate needs to be on the bumper. The radiator get airflow from underneath eccensually Grilles really serve no perpose plenty of cars don't even have a Grill (Saturn's Oldmobiles Corvettes Baretta's) just to list a few. to Avoid drilling any holes you can use some Double Sided tape Velcro or even packing tape. U don't have to put the plate in the center of the bumper either you can put it on either side the placement on the bumper don't matter. the 80s and early 90s Caravans and Voyagers had the plate mounting on the left side of the front bumper for what I can see is really no good reason as there is nothing on that van that would prevent it being center mounted

why do so many people care about front plates? The plates are there for the cops mostly. It helps cops track cars as a cop said in what I read "There is a lot of gray Honda Civics on the road" the front plate helps to indentify or emliminate a car fitting the decription of a crime and most times the car passes them in the other direction to read the rear plate only takes extra time and clever positioning of a cops car or body to read the rear plate

DLB

Attn all criminals in gray civics: please move to states with front plate laws, so we can catch you easier.

Ha Ha, doesnt work that way. we need it to either be a national law, or eleminate it.

In Wisconsin (BTW: Pronounced wiss-SCON-son, not wis-CON-son), we don't really HAVE to have a front plate. The cops usually overlook it if you don't.

american-american

To helloImhere1..... I thought it was pronounced Wuss-con-sin. At least us Buckeyes say it that way.

Barry McKochiner

No need to have any license plates or ugly stickers with modern technology. They can mandate the installation of RFID or other wireless identification tags to charge for toll, run police scans on vehicles. Every vehicle already has a standardized VIN. Efficiency is never a concern with these bloated bureaucracies. Aesthetics shouldn't be trivialized considering that the vehicle is private property but leftists will marginalize any notion of privacy while promoting confiscation if it suits their ideology and profitability.

Steve Visek

I understand the reasons for requiring a front plate and am OK with that, but I think people should have the ability to opt out. Could be a moneymaker for states. They could have a "Front license plate exemption" form and have you pay a fee along with your annual registration fee. The fee could be based on an estimate of lost revenue based on not having the front plate, plus the administrative costs for the program. I'm sure a lot of folks with fancier cars will pay to opt out.
I do agree that it is aggravating that car dealers often automatically drill holes in the bumper cover for the bracket and put on their dealer advertising plate. I live in southeast PA and this is not uncommon, especially as all the surrounding states require front plates. Some years ago I arranged the purchase of my father's new Lincoln, which we bought at a dealership over the river in NJ. Instead of waiting to see if a car might be sold to someone who lived in PA, the dealership just drills all the cars and puts on the brackets. I informed them that we weren't going to spend that kind of money on a new car that was "damaged" and made them put the car in their body shop and fix it before proceeding with the purchase. I also made them remove their decal from the trunk of the car.

salley

go to missouri those Idiots have no rear plates on ANY trucks.Pickup hit us and we took a picture and the law did noyhing because they could not identify it

Phil

Take a bright flashlight and shine it on your license plate. You'll see it's covered with reflective material that illuminates your plate, making it easier to read, especially at night. Now imagine that the cops are beaming a focused laser/radar beam on your front license plate as you're speeding. Your shiny license plate improves the reflection back to their laser/radar guns, making it easier to catch you speeding, especially at long distances (before you can see them). That's the real reason why we have license plates on the front of our cars--revenue through speeding tickets.

slim76

2 plate states are ALL about revenue. spend spend spend other peoples money

Randy_Hawkins

Barry, you're the only one bringing politics into this discussion. Did you notice that most of the 2 plate states are in the Plains and the Rockies, home to many Red States? Texas is a Red State...are they commies, too? Pennsylvania only requires 1 plate. So does Michigan. Does that make them red states? Quit throwing your paranoia out there in a place where it doesn't belong.

cb

In colorado if you cant center the plates on the bumper os it most likely to put the plates on the right side or left of the front bumper.

Jay

No front plate looks nice. But to help catch criminals and deter red light runners (esp at camera intersections), I'm all for front plates.

My aunt was rear ended hard by a hit-and-run driver 18 years ago. Had it not been for the drivers front license plate falling off, he would have gotten away. Especially since the crime was committed in the early morning, when few cars were on the road.

Bad people will do bad things. At least w/ a front plate, identification may be possible. Maybe a driver in the opposite direction could get the front license plate and report it to police. Or the criminals front plate might fall off.

Dave

Jay, justifying the wastefulness of front plates with a one-in-a -thousand example doesn't cut it for me.

Front plates are ugly and waste metal, paint and time.

I lived in Florida, a one plate state, and still got camera tickets in Illinois so the justification of "they can't catch people with no front plate" doesn't hold water either. Cameras can be mounted to catch rear plates if done properly and the images travel at near the speed of light and no car comes close to that.

Ohio Vietnam war vet.

It seems some folks must have flunked Kindergarten! LOOK, if someone, who is robbing a bank, pulls up and doesn't have a front license plate, will it be harder to identify them? OF COURSE! The purpose of license plates is to provide identification. What's next? NO house number? Why do homes and mail boxes have numbers? Imagine you are a police officer. You pull over a driver who is driving erratically. If we didn't have license plates, the officer wouldn't be able to find out if the vehicle was stolen. OK, the officer can see a rear plate, but how about the untold numbers of incidents where security cameras failed to record the plate on a criminal's get-away car because there was no front plate? Just ask some law enforcement officers in those states that don't require a front plate. The argument that front plates are "ugly" is beyond ridiculous. Many states have plates with artistic designs that actually make the plate attractive. All of the arguments against front plates are (1) illogical and (2) down right stupid. WE NEED MORE PUBLIC SAFETY, NOT LESS!

Jeremy

If it's money that's the problem, then why not offer a $25 no-front-plate fee? It might seem like a waste of money for many, but I know there are people (myself included) who would pay $25/year for the right to not have a front plate. Also, considering the people who don't want front plates are the people who care about their cars, that means you're getting money from the people least likely to run red lights and have expired tags and whatnot. The rest of the people, who couldn't care less, aren't paying, and aren't removing their front plates, and they are the ones getting the tickets anyway. It's a win-win!

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