You Will Soon No Longer Need a Front License Plate in Ohio for the First Time in Decades

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky/Skoda

Front license plates are a tool of Big Government and a scourge to people with eyes, so I’m happy to report that in Ohio starting next year they won’t be required, after lawmakers included the measure in a transportation bill earlier this month. They’ve been required in the state for 111 years. But soon, no more.

There was a brief period during World War II when Ohio didn’t require them to save metal for the war effort, but outside of that you’ve needed a front plate in the state since 1908. Come July 1, 2020, that will no longer be the case, after Gov. Mike DeWine signed legislation eliminating the rule on April 3.

Here’s some context from the Dayton Daily News:

Until now, law enforcement groups have successfully pushed to keep the front plate mandate. License plate reader technology used by police agencies for more than a decade allows cruisers to automatically capture photos, time, date and GPS coordinates on thousands of cars in public view. The systems issue instantaneous alerts to stolen cars, outstanding warrants, Amber alerts or issues and investigators look back at photos to help solve crimes later.


Eliminating the requirement that motorists have a front vehicle plate could save Ohio roughly $1.4 million a year, according to analysis from the Legislative Service Commission. Local governments could lose between $120,000 and $240,000 a year in foregone revenue from tickets issued for failure to have a front plate, the LSC analysis said.


Not requiring front license plates isn’t really a “thing” in most any other country that isn’t the U.S., because they are useful tools for law enforcement, especially as plate readers and more and more cameras proliferate in more and more public places. But if a body of lawmakers elected to serve its citizens says that they aren’t necessary—and surely with plenty of police in their ear, in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade otherwise—then I’m fine with that.

Front license plates are unsightly, and only serve law enforcement purposes anyway.


The debate that unfolded in Ohio wasn’t smart, exactly, in any case. Take this reasoning from Republican House Speaker Larry Householder:

Householder also says that new technology in vehicles will make it more difficult to put a front license plate on a car.

“The other thing you’ve got to consider just moving into the future, aerodynamically, cars are starting to get narrower fronts and so it won’t be long before there won’t be a place in the front anyhow,” Householder says. “And when you talk to the auto manufacturer, all of the technology that they have, the smart car technology, all of it is in that front bumper.”


Cars are getting too narrow for front license plates? Huh? Householder also doesn’t consider that the only acceptable front license plates are the ones on the sporty cars, the ones where the car is so sporty the license plate has to be shunted off to the side.

Anyway, perhaps the police have a better argument in support of front license plates.

Officer Joe Ferrell, spokesperson for the Kettering Police Department, said police will no longer be able to use front plate violations to stop a car for probable cause.

“If that vehicle that you want to stop has no front license plate and you’re not behind the vehicle yet, you’ve got to make some maneuver to get behind that car to pull it over and to get it identified,” Ferrell said.


This is literally true, but not terribly convincing as an argument. Police are on stronger footing when it comes to plate readers.

“It can read the license plate as its approaching the patrol car, and then that license plate can be checked for warrants or if it’s stolen, amber alerts, things like that,” Officer Ferrell explained.


And plate readers have always come with their own special set of privacy concerns.

Still, the law will simplify things a bit for cops working near Ohio’s borders, since none of the states bordering it (Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania) require front license plates, like 14 others across the country.


And this is all to say nothing of the weight and aero advantages.