Remember when you were a kid, sitting in a movie theatre, and in front of you was someone blocking the screen? Or what about when you woke up with a giant pimple, right in the middle of your face. Enjoying your trip down memory lane? Now you’re an adult, and although those days are long gone, there are similar situations that still arise. That’s right, we’re talking about front license plates. Have you ever wondered why some states require front license plates while others don’t?
The 31 states that are pro plate tend to argue it helps authorities with criminal apprehension. They also claim it generates income from citations and assists with public safety. Regardless of your stance, the hard truth is that if you choose to resist, you’ll eventually pay a hefty fine.
If you look at Ohio, a state that recently chose to overturn their front license plate law (effective July 2020). They claim a state savings of about $1.4 million, while local government mentions a loss of between $120,000 to $240,000. Uh oh, do you see the dilemma yet?
Thankfully, in this article, we’ll review everything in detail. We’ll first look at each of the states that currently require front license plates, and inspect the current laws in California as an example. Then, we’ll examine the different stances on the argument, and the penalties you might face for ignoring it. Lastly, we’ll look at the different kinds of front license plate mounts and how to install them.
States That Do Require Front License Plates
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
States That Don’t Require Front License Plates
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Front License Plate Law Example (California)
Do you need a front license plate in California? Yes! In fact, we’ll use the front license plate laws in California as an example.
Here’s what it states:
- No covers allowed
- No more than 60” off the ground
- Must be mounted right side up
- Must be securely fastened
- Must be clearly visible
- The reflective coating must remain
- Cannot be swinging
As you can see, the restrictions are pretty straight forward (though, we’re not exactly sure what a “swinging” plate might be. The license plate must be clearly visible without covering or altering the plate in any way. By “securely fastened” they mean that magnetic mounts are not allowed, which are typically used by car dealers during demo drives.
As for adhesive mounts, well, it’s likely up to the mood of the cop that pulled you over. The same goes for displaying a plate in the front window, you might not receive a ticket, but you’ll surely get pulled over and given a warning.
Now that you have a better idea of what a typical front license plate law looks like. Let’s review the pro plate side of the argument.
Pro Plate Argument
Whether you think they might be grasping at straws or not. The argument goes that having a front license plate enhances the visibility of cars due to the reflective coating. This includes stalled vehicle on the side of the road as well as those driving without headlights. Thinking back, how often have you noticed a car because of its reflective license plate? It makes sense to us.
According to frontplate.org, around 70% of all crimes involve a motor vehicle, including drug smuggling, kidnapping, or theft (to name just a few).
The authorities claim that front license plates make it easier to enforce several laws. Including speeding, parking, and reckless driving. They state that having a front plate doubles their chances of identifying a vehicle. Whether from witnesses, plate-reading technology, or cameras.
Here’s the big one – tollways. While most carry front and rear cameras. Many reasons prevent a rear plate from being read, including glare or obstruction. This can result in millions of dollars in revenue not being generated. While most states claim it costs them money, government entities tend to claim it results in a loss.
Now let’s look at the other side of the equation.
No Plate Argument
The most common complaint is that front license plates detract from the aesthetics of a vehicle. Especially sports cars, classics, or models that don’t have a specific indention for them. While most of us hardly think twice about it, places like California or Texas that have many classics and exotics find a lot more opposition.
They interfere with aerodynamics and air intake
While arguing that front license plates detract from the look of a vehicle might sound a little trivial. The fact that they interfere with the aerodynamics and air intake of a car is no joke. Automakers spend a lot of money to ensure specific models operate at peak performance. For this reason, when something as simple as a front license plate inhibits them, we can’t help but agree.
Take the Tesla Model S, for instance, which, according to a recent study, showed a range decrease of nearly 11% due to having a front license plate. Why? Because when you have a vehicle designed to cut through the air with precision, and you add a 6×12” plate of tin. It raises the drag coefficient by a substantial amount.
Tags aren’t required, why are plates?
For most states that require front plates, front tag plates aren’t even necessary, leaving many to wonder, why do we need them in the first place? The counter to this, of course, is that front plates help with the apprehension of criminals, as well as make cars more visible at night.
They get in the way of some safety features
Similar to interfering with aerodynamics and air intake, front car plates also get in the way of specific safety features. Some of these include adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic braking. When you’re spending anywhere from an extra $500 on a single safety feature. Or as much as $3,000 for a specific safety package.
The thought of having to disable them due to a front plate requirement seems silly. Regardless, it beats getting fined a few hundred dollars for disobeying a front license plate law.
Speaking of fines, let’s look at the penalties for not having two plates in a pro plate state.
Penalties for Ignoring the Front License Plate Law
If you live in one of the 19 states that don’t require a front license plate, well, count yourself lucky. For the other 31 states, such as Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, and Virginia, front license plates are required by law. In this case, having no license plate in the front will equal a hefty fine.
How much? The average cost is between $100 to $200, though, it’s usually a fix-it ticket. Meaning if you furnish proof that you resolved the issue, you’re only out the time it took. The other thing to consider is whether your insurance will increase, which, if it does, can mean as much as $1000 extra each year.
You can also attempt to fight the ticket, though, rest assured this is somewhat common. The main excuses? Not having holes drilled in the front bumper and not knowing. Good luck in your endeavors, they’ve heard them before.
Know too, that placing a car license plate in the front window won’t cut it. Although you might be let off with a warning, you’ll likely get pulled over time and again.
Now that you know the risks involved with not following the rules. Let’s look at a few different types of front license plate mounts.
Types of Front License Plate Mounts
On many luxury or sports cars, there’s a small slot on the front bumper. This is used to pull a vehicle up on to a flatbed so as not to cause damage. Inside is a threaded socket, which you can also attach a specialty plate mount to. They’re usually offset from the center, so you’ll have to accept that in terms of aesthetics.
As we mentioned earlier, magnetic mounts exist. However, they’re not meant for use in passenger vehicles, mostly they’re used by dealers during test drives. Remember, most states require that a front license plate is “securely” attached, meaning you’ll likely end up with a ticket if you try to use a magnetic one. Or worse, you’ll have it stolen.
Another possible option for those willing to risk a possible ticket is an adhesive plate. These can be made to look identical to your state-issued plates. However, they are not actually issued by the state, which is where the trouble lies. They also aren’t reflective, which is one of the items mentioned in most laws.
Right-angle mounts are a fantastic option for those looking to avoid drilling holes directly into the front of their bumper. While you still have to drill holes, they’re drilled underneath the bumper rather than in front. They also protrude a small amount, meaning as the plate moves around while driving, it won’t cause further damage. This is great if you plan to move to another state that does not have front plate laws as there won’t be scratches once you remove it.
Here’s a convenient front license plate mount option, an electronic mount. These usually attach similar to a right-angle mount, and with the push of a button, retract out of view. While you might think you’d have an issue with durability, they actually hold-up rather well. Just be careful, because if you forget to leave it up, you’re technically breaking the “clearly visible” law.
How to Mount a Front License Plate if There Aren’t Yet Holes
If you didn’t know, most newer cars feature small divots on the front bumper where you’re supposed to drill holes for a front license plate. If your vehicle does not have these, you’ll have to use a measuring tape to ensure everything is perfectly centered.
Just hold the plate up against the bumper and use a felt pen to mark the holes. While you don’t need a license plate bracket, it is recommended to prevent scratches and scuffs. Plus, they rarely cost more than $15 at your local auto parts store.
Ready for the scary part? Using a 1/8th drill bit, drill holes directly into your front bumper in the pre-marked spot. You don’t have to drill all the way through, just enough so that the screws find traction.
With this completed, simply hold the bracket or plate up against the pre-drilled holes and screw them into place.
What’s the Deal with Digital Plates?
Similar to how e-readers display text, digital plates work much the same. Sadly, most states don’t recognize them. Meaning you’d not only be out the cost of the plate ($500 to $800), but you’d have a ticket to pay as well.
At the time of writing (May 2020), only three states accept digital plates, including California, Michigan, and Arizona. However, a handful of others are considering them. Including Georgia, Florida, Washington, and Illinois.
Do You Live in a 2 License Plate State?
If so, then you already know the risks. But for those just moving somewhere new from a state that doesn’t require a front plate, the change can seem a little absurd. Sadly, there’s no way around it, you’ll need to install one. You typically have 30-days from the time you change your address to register your car in a new state, not doing so will result in added penalties. We suggest taking care of your plates the moment they arrive. Otherwise, you risk having to pay a hefty fee.
While many states are considering removing the two-plate requirement, the present is the only thing that matters. If you’ve made it this far, then you should now be thoroughly informed on all things front license plate related. Thanks for reading – and good luck!