Texas is a two-plate state, which means drivers are supposed to have a license plate on the front and back of their vehicle. Not having a front license plate means an officer has probable cause the stop you at any time, and you may receive a citation for failure to display a license plate.
However, if you drive anywhere in Texas, you will see a huge number of vehicles without front license plates – and they may pass right by an officer and not get stopped. Manufacturers of many vehicles don’t even have pre-installed brackets (and sometimes even a convenient spot) for front license plates. Similarly, vehicles purchased in other states are unlikely to have front license plates.
So, should you run out and get a front license plate if you don’t have one? While the legal answer is “yes,” the practical answer is “it depends.”
In the last five years, I have been pulled over just once for not having a front license plate and I was sent on my way with a warning. That being said, if I drove that vehicle into neighborhoods where there was a high crime rate or drove back in that car after having a drink or two in the evening, then I am begging to be pulled over. If you want to avoid giving the police a valid reason to pull you over at any time, then definitely get a front license plate.
If your fast Italian sports car that you only drive on Sundays doesn’t have a front license plate, and you don’t want to mar the front end of your car, you may decide following this particular law is not for you – and let’s face it, you’re more likely to get pulled over for speeding in that car anyways.
It’s just important to understand that not having a front license plate is a violation, and you can get stopped and ticketed for it. The last thing you want to happen is to get stopped for failing to have a front license plate and then an officer claims to smell marijuana, which that leads to a search that turns up incriminating evidence and an arrest. If there is any chance that you or a passenger or your vehicle shouldn’t be searched, definitely have a front license plate.
The Confusion Over Whether You Need Two License Plates in Texas
For the last few years, there has been confusion over whether Texas is a “two-plate state.” Lawyers and non-lawyers alike were left wondering whether Texas requires two license plates on vehicles. The short answer is, “yes.”
Prior to 2012, it was illegal to drive a vehicle that did not display both a front and rear license plate. In 2012, the legislature reorganized parts of the Transportation Code and in doing so inadvertently removed the penalty for driving a vehicle not equipped with two license plates. As a result, from January 2012 to September 2013, Section 504.943 of the Texas Transportation Code required two license plates, yet there was no penalty for vehicles that did not have the two required plates. During that time, officers could not issue citations to vehicles that were not equipped with two license plates; therefore, stops that were made for failure to have two license plates could be challenged in court.
Nineteen out of 50 states do not require a front license plate. The remaining 31 states, including Texas, require a front and rear license plate. Every state that borders Texas (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana) requires only the rear license plate to be displayed.
In 2012, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute began a study into why Texas would need two separate license plates. The study concluded that “having a second plate makes it easier to photograph those who run stop signs and red lights or don’t pay tolls or drive out of unattended pay garages and parking lots without paying. Linking automatic license plate readers to databases also makes it easier to track down scofflaws electronically instead of having human eyeballs view every image to identify license plate numbers.”
What Are the Consequences for Not Having a Front License Plate in Texas?
First and foremost, an officer has probable cause to stop your vehicle at any time if you do not have a front license plate. (Editor’s note: I have not had a front license plate in many years and have only once been stopped for anything other than speeding, but it is a risk I decide to take on. If there’s even a chance that you have something illegal in your vehicle or if you drive after having even one drink, you should strongly consider having a front license plate.)
Effective September 1, 2013, Section 504.943 of the Texas Transportation Code entitled, Operation of a Vehicle Without License Plate, was amended to provide punishment for not displaying a front license plate. It is now an offense to operate a vehicle that does not display two licenses plates, and the punishment for failure to have both license plates is a fine of up to $200.
For many, the potential fine of $200 may not seem like enough to drill into the front of a new vehicle to add a license plate. It is, however, important to realize not having a front license plate does give the police probable cause to stop your vehicle any time they want.
A person commits an offense if the person operates on a public highway, during a registration period, a motor vehicle that does not display two license plates, and could be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.
Can I Put My License Plate in the Front Windshield of My Car?
Under Transportation Code Section 504.943, the placement of license plates is governed by Texas Department of Public Safety rules.
Rule 217.27 of Title 43 Texas Administrative Code provides that passenger vehicles must display two license plates, one at the exterior front and one at the exterior rear of the vehicle that are securely fastened at the exterior front and rear of the vehicle in a horizontal position of not less than 12 inches from the ground.
Is Your License Plate Visible at 50 Feet?
You can also be stopped for a violation of Transportation Code 546.322 if your license plate is not clearly visible from 50 feet at night.
We hope you found this information helpful. If you were recently arrested or charged with a misdemeanor or felony stemming from a traffic violation, or need a Fort Worth DWI Lawyer give us a call today for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
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