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All states and the District of Columbia require a rear license plate and 30 states and D.C. require front license plates.

If you live in an area where a front license plate is required, you may be wondering why. The rationale for requiring front license plates varies from state to state, but the most common justification is that it helps law enforcement identify vehicles from both the front and the back. 

If you drive without a front plate in a state that requires it, you may either receive a “fix-it ticket” or be required to pay a fine. A fix-it ticket, also known as a correctable violation, is issued to motorists driving an automobile with a light out, missing a front license plate, or other equipment issues.

If you fix the problem before the deadline on the fix-it ticket and get the signature of a law enforcement officer or another authorized person, you can avoid paying a fine, according to the legal information site FindLaw.

This article lists the states that require front plates and the penalty for not having one.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Thirty U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently require front license plates.
  • You can install a front license plate using a plate holder, an adhesive-mounted bracket, a tow hook bracket adapter, or by drilling holes.
  • Front license plates allow law enforcement to identify a vehicle from the front and the back of the car.
  • If you drive without a front plate in a state that requires it, you may receive a "fix-it ticket" or a fine.

Do you need a front license plate?

In the United States, most states require automobiles to have a license plate on the front and back of the car. It helps law enforcement identify the vehicle involved in a crime or traffic violation. If you live in one of those states, you need a front plate on your car. 

"Having two plates (front and back) makes it easier to locate stolen cars. This is especially true with police departments that use license plate reader systems," says Steve Albrecht, a retired San Diego police officer.

Why do some states require front license plates?

In addition to making the care easy to identify, there are a few other reasons for requiring front license plates. They include the fact that the reflective nature of the front plate can increase a car’s visibility to oncoming traffic, making it easier for cameras and lasers to capture red-light violators and toll violations. 

License plate readers (LPRs) use a high-speed camera to photograph passing cars, identify the license plate number, and check it against a "hot list" of violators and stolen vehicles.

It's not just car-theft victims who benefit from front plates. "A big advantage to having both plates is that witnesses and victims have a better chance of seeing the license plate of suspicious vehicles involved in crimes regardless of which way they're driving," says Trooper Tyler Weerden of the Connecticut State Police.

Many people consider them downright unsightly, especially owners of exotic or classic cars. Still, it's hard to deny that law-enforcement capabilities and public safety are improved by the ability to identify a car from either end.

Which states require a front license plate?

Ultimately, whether or not a state requires a front license plate is up to that state’s legislature. The states that require a front license plate are: 

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AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DC DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY
States That Require Front License Plate
States That Do Not Require Front License Plate

    Is it illegal not to have a front license plate?

    You must have a license plate in every state to operate a vehicle on public roads. The state's department of motor vehicles issues plates, and in some states, the law only requires one plate at the rear of the vehicle. 

    However, in the 30 states listed above, you must also have a front license plate. You could face fines if you violate the front plate law by driving without a license plate on the front of the car.

    What are the penalties for violating the front plate law?

    If the police stop you, you may have to pay a fine. In some states, a front license plate violation is merely a fix-it ticket, meaning you must add a plate and verify it with the local police.

    The ticket goes away once you add the plate to the front of the vehicle and have it checked by the police. A front-plate ticket shouldn't affect your car insurance rates in most instances. 

    "It's not uncommon for troopers to stop vehicles for license plate violations. Whether a ticket or verbal warning is issued depends upon each situation," says Trooper Weerden.

    Requirements for mounting a front license plate

    Vehicle codes differ from state to state, so not all requirements are the same for mounting your front license plate. In general, your plate must be:

    • Clearly visible
    • Securely fastened
    • Unable to swing when mounted
    • Mounted right side up
    • No more than 60 inches off the ground
    • Uncovered
    • Intact, with its original reflective coating

    Frequently asked questions

    What is a valid license plate?

    All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Native American tribes and five U.S. territories all have specifications for the appearance of license plates and what makes them valid.

    License plates for passenger vehicles usually have five to seven characters, with options for specialty or vanity plates, which can have up to 8 characters in some states. All states use a mix of letters and numbers.

    Plates usually require current tags to be valid. In some states, new tags are required every year, while others renew them every two or more years.

    Which states do not require front license plates?

    Most states require two license plates -- front and back. But several states only require a rear plate. They are:

    Map
    List
    AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DC DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY
    States That Do Not Require Front License Plate
    States That Require Front License Plate

      Can I put my license plate in the front windshield of my car?

      States law determines how license plates must be mounted. The law may specifically say you can’t place the plate on your windshield. However, the plates must be securely fastened, so they don't swing. They must be clear, visible, upright, and the required number of feet off the ground. That means the windshield likely isn’t a legal location for your plate.

      If an officer pulls you over, you may get a fix-it ticket requiring you to mount your license plate correctly to the bumper or grill. Besides that, a license plate on your windshield can cause serious harm if you're ever in an accident. It’s made of sharp metal and can become a projectile, harming you or your passengers.

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