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License Plate Laws

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License Plate Laws

The main requirements for automobile license plates are very straightforward. Specifically:

  • The plate should be currently valid and clearly visible.
  • The plate should be mounted to the car in the proper place in a manner that is free of obstruction.
  • All of the numbers and letters should be clearly visible, as well as any other identifying markers.

This means that plates should be cleaned periodically and checked to be sure they are free of debris, mud, or dirt. Some states have banned the plastic covers that are sold to protect the license plate, as they can cause a glare or reflection that could be dangerous for other drivers.

Am I Allowed to Customize My License Plate?

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) allows customized or personalized license plates, which are usually accompanied by a yearly fee. However, the DMV discourages drivers from making their own adjustments or modifications to license plates, such as filing them down or cutting the edges so that they are smaller.

Do All States Require Both Front and Rear License Plates?

No. 31 states require both front and rear license plates, while the remaining 19 only require rear license plates. Automobile manufacturers are prohibited by law from distributing cars with only one license plate in states that require both.

The 19 states that require only the rear license plate are:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

Therefore if your state requires both front and rear plates, you should make sure that both are displayed and your registration is current.

What Is the Penalty for a License Plate Violation?

If you have violated license plate laws, it will usually result in a traffic ticket. In some states, violations of license plate provisions are usually considered as "fix-it" tickets. This means that the driver will usually be let free without any fees on the condition that they fix the license plate in a timely manner.

In other states, a violation of a license plate provision can be accompanied by a fine, usually from $100-$200. Repeat offenses can result in more serious consequences, such as increased fines or suspension of driving privileges.

When Am I Required to Surrender My License Plates?

In some instances the DMV may require the driver to surrender their license plates. This means that the driver will no longer be allowed to operate that particular automobile. This is usually the case when the driver cannot furnish proof of driver’s insurance for their car.

If the DMV has requested a driver surrender their license plates, they should do so without delay. This may involve removing any attachments used for mounting such as frames, screws, or other hardware. Failure to surrender license plates when requested to do so could result in a suspended driver’s license and revoked registration.

Do I Need an Attorney for License Plate Issues?

If you have a dispute over the license plate laws, you should strongly consider contacting an attorney. Having proper license plates is a condition for driving in all states, and violations of license plates requirements can result in severe penalties. If you have a question regarding the proper placement or displaying of license plates, you should contact a lawyer or your local DMV to determine the requirements of your state.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 12-05-2017 10:15 PM PST

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