Is Texas a Two-Plate State? Front and Rear License Plates (2018)
Texas is a two-plate state
Texas requires a front license plate, and is a two-plate state. 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.
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 never 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, give us a call today for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
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