Approximately one in five Utahns are breaking the law the minute they get behind the wheel of their car—but do they even realize it? It’s not for a seatbelt violation or texting and driving, but is due to a rather obscure law that many don’t know exists until they’re cited: a requirement to have a front license plate attached to their vehicle.
Unlike many other traffic violations, this law does not keep you any safer while you drive—but it can cost you if you fail to comply with it. According to court data, over 1,300 people are ticketed each year in Utah for failing to display license plates. Not all of these tickets are given for front licenses specifically, but a significant amount of the tickets were for failure to display the front one.
Why do roughly 20% of Utahns fail to comply with the law? Some don’t even know it exists, while others choose not to adhere to it because of the vehicle they own. Not all cars were made with a spot for front license plates—Subarus, Teslas, Jeeps, and even Hondas are just a few of the brands which don’t manufacture all their cars with a spot for front license plates.
And if the owners of these vehicles try to comply, they’ll have to pay by having it professionally installed or buying special kits to fasten the license plate themselves. Representative Paul Ray once sponsored legislation to exempt such vehicles from the law, but it failed to move forward because the Senate never voted on it.
People are ticketed at random for failing to attach a front license plate, because it stands as a secondary offense, meaning an officer can’t use it as a primary reason for pulling a car over. The driver has to commit a more serious offense like reckless driving. After an officer pulls them over they can tack on a license plate violation charge to the initial charges given, racking up the cost of the citation.
The law stands more as a slap on the wrist for failure to comply rather than a ticket for causing potential harm to other drivers. Defenders of the law argue that front license plate requirements should be upheld as a safety measure. Cars without them may be more difficult to identify in cases of theft, for example. While this hasn’t proven to be true in Utah, the fact remains that it is doing more harm than good to hundreds of Utahns every year, who are forced to shell out cash for something that wasn’t a problem that could be lawfully addressed until they were already pulled over for something presumably more dangerous.
Utah stands alongside 30 other states with their front license plate requirements, while the other “rugged 19” just require one plate attached to the rear end of a vehicle. Defenders of these 19 states claim they have been able to save money while keeping their ecological footprint smaller due to less use of resources to manufacture double plates and the alleged increase in fuel efficiency by not having a front license plate on vehicles. Utah should consider joining these states by removing the two plate requirement—a law that results in frivolously ticketing people for a violation which has nothing to do with the safety of drivers and their passengers.
Doing away with front plates could save resources while removing one more frivolous law that is used to add costs onto people’s citations—a burden that is already expensive enough. Out of state one-plate cars travel through our state every day without a problem, and Utahns should be allowed to do the same with theirs.