It may seem like a minor issue to some, but the issue of front license plates on cars can be a polarizing one.
On the one hand, they help ensure public safety by being able to quickly identify vehicles from both the front and back. Law enforcement agencies around the country argue in support of requiring them, citing issues of public safety and the ability to more easily identify a vehicle involved in a crime or moving violation.
On the other hand, many people feel the ruin the asthetic of cars by adding an ugly plate to the car's front fascia, arguabley the vehicle's most distinctive part of its personality.
Either way, we help break down which states, including Texas, California and Massachusetts, require the oft-dreaded front license plate and how people try to get around it.
There are 30 states plus Washington D.C. that require a front license plate.
The states are as follows:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Almost all of these states are in the northern part of the country, with the exception of Texas and Hawaii. All West Coast states require front license plates and most East Coast states do as well. States that do not require front license plates are largely located in the south and east portion of the country.
In some of the states where the front plate is required, the law is unpopular, particularly among sports car owners who dislike marring the front of their vehicle with a license plate.
States Without A Front Plate Requirement
Every state requires at least a rear license plate, but as previously mentioned, there are 19 states that do not require a front plate. These states are:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Ohio is the most recent state to allow drivers to go without a front plate. The state passed a law that goes into effect on July 1, 2020 that allows for passenger vehicles to use only a rear plate.
Why Some Car Owners Dislike Front Plates
There's no doubt that plenty of drivers in front plate states don't even think about their cars requiring or needing front plates.
But drivers who own sports cars, classic cars, and high-end luxury vehicles often object to the front plate law because of how it detracts from the appearance of their vehicle. One of the reasons for this is that some vehicles were never designed to allow for a front license plate, and some enthusiasts contend that because of this, the plate can interfere with the car's cooling by blocking airflow up front.
Classic cars are a great example of this, but there are exotic foreign cars that also fall under this category too.
Ways Drivers Get Around the Front Plate Law
Some drivers attempt to circumvent the plate law by placing their plate in the window or by keeping it somewhere else inside the car, such as in the glove box or on the floor. However, laws tend to state that the plate must be in a fully visible location on the car. Some states have various exceptions in place, such as Washington state, which allows for exceptions in the case of vehicles that do not have front locations specifically built for a front plate. In order to qualify for such an exemption, you have to write the Washington State Patrol and ask for a waiver.
Penalties for Disobeying the Front Plate Law
Police will often pull over drivers who do not carry a front plate if the state requires it. The penalties vary by state. Sometimes a ticket is issued immediately and other times the driver may receive a verbal warning. Fines for this violation are usually between $100 and $200.
Another method is the fix-it ticket. This means that you initially get a ticket, but if you add the plate and then verify it with your local police department, the ticket will be canceled. If you're determined to drive without a front plate, the good news is that equipment tickets such as this rarely affect car insurance rates.
In some states, vehicles parked on the street with no visible plate can get a parking ticket from the local parking authority. These fines often vary and can be as little as $25.
How Front Plates Create Financial Impacts
It's not just drivers who object to required front plates on cars, but also lawmakers in some states. They argue that manufacturing and distributing front plates costs more than it's worth. However, due to the fines levied on violations of the law, other lawmakers argue that the plates pay for themselves. For example, in Denver, a particular toll road generates up to a third of its revenue by scanning front license plates. States not requiring front plates often see a large number of toll violators due to unreadable rear plates.
The Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona calculates parking fees with Automated License Plate Recognition. But due to glare on the rear license plates, it is forced to determine fees on up to 15 percent of vehicles by hand rather than automatically. Naturally, this requires more manpower and paying workers to go out and take down license plates.
Front Plate Laws and Crime-Fighting
Proponents of front plates argue that they make the public safer. Two plates generally make it easier to find stolen cars, according to the police. License Plate Reader systems are used by the police to identify stolen cars and cars whose owners have outstanding violations or arrest warrants. The police use this technology by taking pictures of passing vehicles with a high-speed camera. The reader identifies the plate numbers and checks them against a hot list. LPR systems are able to read 10,000 plates in about eight hours. If the LPR is only able to work with a rear plate, that number falls by half. Another area where this applies is when victims or bystanders need to read the plate numbers of a vehicle leaving the scene of a crime or accident. When only one plate is required, it makes it more difficult for the authorities and witnesses to correctly identify the plate.
Other License Plate Laws
License plate laws regarding both plates are generally straightforward. Plates need to be valid and fully visible. They need to be properly mounted on the car in the designated space without obstruction. All numbers, letters and other identification on the plate should be fully visible. Plates should not be muddy or marred with debris, and some states even ban plastic covers due to the glare they cause. Drivers are not allowed to customize their plates by cutting them or filing down the edges. Car manufacturers and dealers are not allowed to distribute vehicles with only one plate in states that require two plates.
Occasionally license plate laws come up for debate in state governments. In 2017, several states attempted to introduce bills to amend license plate laws in the two-plate states. The laws were largely aimed at historic vehicles that lacked space for a front plate.
Cars Never Designed for Front Plates
As mentioned above, many older cars were never designed for front license plates. Can you spot which ones need them and which ones don't? Click the Classic Car button below to explore classic cars listed on Autolist and see if you can spot the ones without an obvious place for the front license plate.