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I Hate That My State Requires a Front License Plate

There are very few things I dislike about living in the great state of Wisconsin. One is the winters that are approximately six months long, and another is the fact that America’s Dairyland is one of the 31 states in the U.S. that requires a front license plate. This is a controversial topic, and it’s one that Doug DeMuro is wrong about, as I will explain to him now as he edits this article.

There are some obvious pros and cons that have been hashed out in the great front license plate debate. The clear pro is greater visibility for law enforcement, and the clear con is that it can make your car look stupid. I drove a Ford Focus ST for a couple years in Wisconsin without a front license plate because I’m such a rebellious outlaw — but I had the best excuse for not having one.

When I bought the car, it didn’t have a front license plate bracket on it. Even if I wanted to put on a front plate, it wasn’t possible. I was very okay with this. The salesman who sold me the car, however, told me there’s a part you can get from Ford specifically for mounting a license plate on the Focus ST’s gaping maw of a grille. He told me he would order it and send it to me in the mail. To this day, about a year after I sold the car, I am still waiting for that salesman to send me that bracket. I only had to tell this story to one police officer in the time that I had that car.

Anyway, back to how right I am about front license plates. I found this study about front license plates from 2012 conducted by Texas A&M. If you’re really interested in the hard data on this issue, check out the study for yourself. What I got out of this study is that the main reason states want to infringe on your freedom by requiring a front plate is so they can enforce tolls. Obviously having a front plate doubles the number of plates on the car, but apparently, they’re easier for cameras to read during the day due to sun glare distorting rear plates.

So requiring a front plate might have safety benefits, but it also has the-government-stealing-your-money benefits. Not only does a plate on the front of your car look awkward, but it also makes it easier for law enforcement to send you tickets in the mail. Knowing what I know now about enforcing tolls makes it even more confusing to me as to why Wisconsin requires front plates. Wisconsin doesn’t have toll roads — and whenever I’m driving in a state with tolls, I’m offended by the practice of being charged for using a road that’s theoretically already paid for with public funds.

But the main reason I hate that my state requires a front license plate is because of how bad they look. If it’s a boring car like my Honda Odyssey, I don’t mind having a front plate on it at all. Even for more sporty, fun cars, I don’t mind a front plate so much when there’s a clear spot for it designed into the car. It’s just when a front plate looks like a tacked-on afterthought that ruins the look of a car that bothers me.

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  1. Sometimes I pause to think how offended the car designers must be. All that work put into what they strive to make a sleek/svelte/sporty/strong/luxurious/etc. automobile, and then to have a license plate smacked on the front.
    [Plus, NYS currently has offensive school bus-colored plates.]

  2. Michigan doesn’t mandate front plates, and we don’t have toll roads. We just have roads that look like a Fisher-Price road building kit.

  3. You know, I agree that mounting the front plate on the grill looks bad for those cars that require such.  But I have a German sports car and live in a two license state and have the plate on the car. I don’t think it looks bad.  The dealer here suggested violating the law and not mounting the front.  I didn’t go with his advice.  It looks fine in my opinion.  But I do understand that some cars don’t have the space for a plate from an aesthetics pov.  

  4. I like your attitude, Eric.
    I hate front plates with a burning passion.  I no longer live in a front-plate state, but I grew up in one. 
    The ’88 Accord I had in college never had the front plate on it.  When I got the car and received the plate, I bent it, scratched it, and threw it under the seat.  For the next four years whenever an officer asked me about it, I pulled out the battered plate and claimed it had just fallen off.  It worked every time.
    One time I actually convinced the cop I was literally on my way to the store to buy plate fasteners at that moment. 
    Another time, while returning from a road trip to DC, I spun a yarn about the plate falling off on the Beltway and me risking life and limb to retrieve it.  “Really?  You went and got it?”, the cop asked incredulously. 
    I replied with nonchalance, “Well, it wasn’t rush hour.”  
    I later realized I almost blew it with that answer, because if that cop knew anything about the Capital Beltway, he would have known that every hour is rush hour.
  5. Same here in TX.  I zip-tied my front plate to the lower left corner of my Sienna’s grille mainly because we never got the front bracket.  I’m not about to drill holes in the bumper and now the plate looks like a tongue hanging out, which is fun.

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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