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Are you buying a new car? Here’s a reminder that in some parts of the country, state laws require you to put a license plate on the front of your vehicle, as well as on the back.

Some people think that a front license plate detracts from the appearance of a car, so why do most states want you to have one? A front-end tag serves three specific purposes:

  1. To increase vehicle safety.
  2. To make it easier for law enforcement to do their job.
  3. To provide a source of revenue for state agencies.

Laws about front license plates

If your state requires a front license plate, you’ll know when you register your vehicle. When you receive your plate, whether in person or through the mail, you should receive two: one for the rear of the vehicle and one for the front.

States that do require a rear and front license plate have laws that define the requirements when placing a front license plate on your vehicle.

  • The plate must be valid, with an up-to-date registration.
  • The plate must be free of obstructions.
  • The plate must have numbers, letters and identifying markers that are clearly visible.

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These states, plus the District of Columbia, require vehicle owners to put an additional license plate on the front of their vehicles:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

If you live in one of those states, you can face penalties if you don’t have a front tag. Most penalties include fines, which vary according to where you received a ticket.

On the other hand, if you register your vehicle in a state that doesn’t require a front license plate but live in a state that does, the penalty is usually much stiffer. In addition to a higher fine, you could end up doing jail time because skirting the law in such a fashion is considered a gross misdemeanor.

Customized plates

The Department of Motor Vehicles allows drivers to order special, customized license plates, including front plates. Of course, you must follow the laws established by your state when doing so. First off, the rear and front plates must match. Second, vehicle owners are not allowed to customize their plates by making adjustments or modifications to the plate, including making them smaller or filing down sections to achieve a certain look.

The practicality of front license plates

The reasons for a front license tag are practical:

  • Safety: Front license plates make vehicles more visible at night because of the reflective material the plates are made from. When a vehicle is parked on a dark roadway, the reflective front-end plate can alert oncoming traffic to the presence of the vehicle.
  • Law enforcement tool: A license plate on both the front and back of a vehicle makes it easier for law enforcement officials to identify that vehicle, which helps them to better uphold the law on the streets and highways.
  • Revenue source: Requiring a front license plate on a vehicle can increase revenues from tolls and parking garage violations. A front license plate on a vehicle makes it easier to scan for tolls. States that require only rear license plates have a harder time determining the identity of violators in areas such as parking garages. Even with cameras present, glare can interfere with identification of an offender’s plate.

By installing a front license plate properly, you can stay on the right side of the law and avoid fines or jail time.

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