Other License Plate Issues
Two License Plates Required
Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands all require that automobiles have a license plate on both the front and back of the vehicle. Proponents of two license plates argue that it increases safety and aids law enforcement. Specifically, supporters have suggested that two license plates help automated enforcement systems such as speed and red light cameras, because photos can be taken from both the front and back of the car. Opponents, however, suggest that two-plate systems increase the cost of manufacturing plates, making production twice as expensive. Two states, Nevada and Wyoming, have passed modifications to the one-plate requirement for vehicles that do not have a designated space for a front plate. Wyoming’s House Bill 74 went into effect July 1, 2015, and Nevada’s Senate Bill 251 was approved by the Governor on May 27, 2015. Nevada still issues two plates to every vehicle owner, but exempts owners from displaying the front plate. Wyoming also considered legislation that would allow owners of qualifying vehicle models to apply for a similar exemption, replacing the front plate with a windshield sticker.
Frames and Covers
All 50 states address license plate frames and covers because certain frames and covers can impair visibility for law enforcement officers. Some states directly regulate license plate frames and covers, while others more generally prohibit the obstruction of license plate readability. Utah law, for example, requires license plates to be clearly legible from a distance of at least 100 feet during daylight hours. However, it should be noted that more regulations and prohibitions are imposed on covers than on frames. In California, it is unlawful to cover a license plate, even if the cover is transparent. In a federal case on this issue, a California court found that a tow hitch left on a vehicle trailer when not being towed could be considered an obstruction, even if it only blocks the view of a portion of the plate from a small angle. Although many states allow frames, they permit only covers that in no way alter the color or appearance of a license plate. Texas motorists must not attach or display a license plate cover that contains a blurring or reflective matter that significantly impairs the readability of the plate or any attached illuminate device or stick, decal or emblem.
Corporate Sponsored Plates
In 2011, the Illinois Legislature enacted a law requiring the Secretary of State to conduct a feasibility study for implementing a program for corporate-sponsored license plates. The Secretary of State was to report findings on how to maximize profits for the state, public interest and the cost of implementing such a program in early 2012. The concept of corporate-sponsored license plates is that the vehicle owner would receive a discounted rate for a license plate and a corporate sponsor would be provided space to advertise on the plate. Companies would also pay the state a fee to participate in the program. The Secretary of State report concluded, “While the Office of the Secretary of State recognizes that some will find appealing the concept of raising sorely needed funds by selling advertising space on our license plates to corporations, the results of the research conducted by this office and the experience of the only state to implement such a program unfortunately lead to the conclusion that this concept is not a viable option. Therefore, we must recommend against pursuing a corporate sponsored license plate program in Illinois.”
The only state that offers corporate sponsored license plates is Texas, where nine corporations sponsor license plates, with four of the nine offering incentives for purchase, such as Mighty Fine Burgers, which offers $100 in coupons to purchasers of the plate, and Ignite Steam Energy and Re/Max who make charitable donations upon the purchase of the plates. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office based its opinion on the viability of corporate-sponsored license plates mainly on the lackluster revenue generated in the two years Texas has made them available—only 489 plates sold for a profit of just over $27,000.
Replacing License Plates
The American Association of Motor Vehicles Administration, (AAMVA) recently released a report proposing the standard for replacing license plates be within 10 years because “license plates commonly lose significant reflectivity within 10 years…” Florida, Iowa and Michigan for example, have a 10-year license plate replacement cycle, while Indiana recently changed its replacement cycle from five years, like Montana’s, to seven years, like Texas’. Notably, Nevada recently enacted AB 484 in 2015 to create its requirement for license plate renewal, which is an eight-year plan.