Ohio's Long Battle Over Front License Plates Isn't Over Yet

Photo: AP

Some states require front license plates, others don’t. Car enthusiasts say the cars look better without them. The police say they have captured violent criminals because of them. The state of Ohio is somehow still in the midst of this debate despite having passed legislation earlier this year abolishing the requirement.

That legislation was set to eliminate the requirement as of July 1, 2020, but now, according to The Plain Dealer, some lawmakers are having second thoughts. Or if not second thoughts, the same thoughts as before, as the debate over the front license plate has been raging for over a decade. The requirement has been in place since 1908, only lifted during World War II to save metal.

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From The PD:

Republican Sens. Joe Uecker, of the Cincinnati area and Jay Hottinger, of Newark, are planning to introduce legislation to reinstate the front license plate requirement, which the legislature voted to abolish last March as part of the state transportation budget.

Uecker, a former police officer, said Monday he gave the first floor speech of his state legislative career 15 years ago in defense of the front license plate requirement.

“We have time to reverse a bad decision,” he said.

I grew up in Ohio, and the Ohio I know is a place where cops tend to get what they want, but this debate is pitting the police against perhaps a more powerful local urge, Big Government. Also automotive aesthetics. All those impulses I understand, but, for once, I fear the police may be a bit more persuasive.

Proponents, who include car dealers and auto enthusiasts, argue the requirement is costly and cumbersome, especially considering that all the states that border Ohio require only a rear license plate.

But law enforcement say the second plate gives them twice the odds of identifying criminal suspects, and helps customers of ride-share services like Uber or Lyft ensure they’re getting in the right car. In past testimony to state legislators and on Monday, they have recounted instances of murders, kidnappings and other cases being solved thanks to a front license plate being captured on camera or seen by a police officer. They say the pushback — which Uecker described as passionate when he shared plans on Facebook page to try to preserve the plate — largely revolves around superficial, aesthetic reasons.

The tension that exists here—between FREEDOM THIS IS ‘MURICA and reasonable limits on said freedoms—is one of the oldest political debates in this country, perhaps the debate that defines almost everything. This is all kind of ham-fisted in this small context—why are the police talking about Uber and Lyft?—but I fully expect Ohio to still be debating this twenty years from now.

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Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.