Why Some Cars Don’t Have License Plates (Explained)

As a car owner, you may be wondering why some cars on the road are without license plates.

License plates are also known as vehicle registration plates. They are metal tags that prove car owners have legally met all requirements to secure a license. They always contain a unique registration number that states the demand that owners display on cars.

It can be at the rear of cars. In some states, it is the at the rear and front.

In this article, we will discuss the reasons some cars do not have license plates and why every state demands them from car owners.

We will also explore the penalties for driving a car without plate numbers.

Here’s the Answer to Why Some Cars Don’t Have License Plates:

Some vehicles don’t have license plates because the government excluded them from getting it. These cars mostly consist of vehicles owned by the federal or state government. The most relevant of these vehicles, according to the California Government, include aircraft refueling vehicles, cemetery equipment, disaster relief vehicles, and firefighting equipment.

Also, the states exempt mail vehicles, although the California government didn’t include them. According to Trooper Steve, a traffic road expert, states didn’t include mail trucks because they:

“.. have been allowed to do this since 1973 when the federal government exempted them from certain regulations and licensing requirements…”

We can say the same regarding other vehicles in this category. The state may, however, require public vehicles to display a special serial number on their front and back for identification, and sometimes none.

In What States Can You Drive Without License Plates?

All the states in the USA require all car owners to own license plates.

This is because, besides its major purpose of identifying vehicles, the government has incorporated it to benefit the state in other dimensions. According to the US General Services Administration, these benefits involve:

“record-keeping, asset management, and other issues to keep drivers and vehicles safe, while ensuring good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

License plates are not just plated numbers, they are tools your state government uses to manage the affairs of the vehicles it owns and leases.

Some states, however, allow new car owners to drive freely until they get their license plates. The others, through the Department of Motor Vehicles, issue temporary tag numbers to car owners pending the period their license plate is ready.

This period is 30 days in most states. It may be lesser or higher in other states.

No state in all the 50 states of the USA allows car owners to drive without license plates unless it falls under the exempted category.

How Do the Police Recognize a Car With No Front License Plate?

Law enforcement agencies operating in states that do not employ the front license plate recognize cars by using only the rear plates.

States ensure car identification by rear plates through erecting cameras and law enforcement agencies in positions that will capture the rear of cars. They need to face the direction cars travel on every road to access their rear plates, be it an incoming or ongoing car.

However, identifying cars using only the rear license plate may task traffic law agencies. It requires extra effort and smartness. This is because criminals can easily avoid being caught by strategically driving in a way that their rear plate numbers remain hidden.

When Did It Become Legal to Drive With No License Plate on the Front?

There was no definite time in America when it became legal to drive with no license plates on the front of cars. Each state has a varied period and history of rear license plate adoption and legalization.

The inconsistency that accompanies license plate adoption in each state makes it impossible to pinpoint a particular time license plates became legalized.

Some states over the years have gone from using only the rear license plates to using the front and rear license plates, and vice versa. Others have maintained their adoption of one/two license plates from the beginning to date.

New York was the first state in the USA to adopt the use of license plates on cars. New York did not, however, interfere with plate issuing until 1910. Other states emulated the practice and Massachusetts became the first to issue license plates in 1903. The history of license plate adoption has evolved since then to each state’s law and regulations.

Out of the 50 states in America, 20 require only the rear license plate.

Here is the list of the 20 states and when they adopted the use of the rear license plates:

No States Year It Became Legal to Drive with No Front License Plates
1. Arizona 1989
2. Mississippi 1925
3. Georgia. 1942
4. Kentucky 1944
5. Ohio 2020
6. Florida 1922
7. Delaware 1945
8. Indiana 1905
9. Michigan 1981
10. Kansas, 1956
11. Alabama 1962
12. West Virginia 1944
13. Pennsylvania 1952
14. Tennessee 1977
15. South Carolina 1975
16. North Carolina 1956
17. New Mexico 1961
18. Oklahoma 1944
19. Arkansas 1944
20. Louisiana 1952

The remaining 30 states warrant both the front and rear plates, which are issued after a successful license registration.

Do All States Require a License Plate on the Back of the Car?

All states require license plates at the back of cars.

There has to be a means for every state to identify and track all cars in their possession. So far, license plates have been doing this accurately and more. It has proved to be an essential tool for law enforcement agencies to fight theft and insecurity. It has also been a means to enforce road laws in every state.

The adoption of the Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) has also contributed to the states’ adoption of license plates at the back of all cars.

ALPR is a speed camera used on roads to capture license plates. It keeps a record of all license plates that come into view with their data. ALPR has contributed a great deal to states’ maintenance of law and order on car owners under their authority.

All states require car owners to have license plates on the back of their cars to make the assignments of road law agencies possible, easy, and fast.

Related: 8 Documents You MUST Get When Buying USED Cars

Why Do Some Cars Have No License Plates on the Front?

Some cars don’t have license plates in the front because their states made no such requirements.

After license registration, the state offers them only one license plate for their car. This plate automatically goes to the car’s rear.

Also, some cars do not have front license plates because the manufacturers failed to include a front plate holder in their designs. These cars include many luxurious cars like Audi, Tesla, Lamborghini, etc. Some owners have resolved to exclude the front license plates altogether because they do not want to impair some inbuilt features.

Tesla car owners, for example, claimed the front license interrupts the car’s auto-pilot self-driving features, so they found other areas to display their licenses. Some drivers however put them in their cars.

Despite these claims, it is still illegal to drive without your front license plate if your state requires it. You need to find a way around your car design to have them. Failure to do so will warrant tickets and sometimes, a fine.

Some car owners don’t care about paying fines a few times for being caught. Repeated offenses can, however, lead to severe punishment that varies according to state.

Related: Can Rental Car Companies Track Your Speed?

What Happens if You Drive Without License Plates?

Driving without license plates is illegal and punishable by the law. The punishment varies according to the state.

In every state, the common punishment involves the issuance of tickets, a fine, suspension, community service, or jail sentence.

States’ penalties for driving without a license plate differ because of some factors. Note that the penalty for driving without a license plate is not as severe as driving with a suspended or revoked license plate.

If your state issued you a ticket when caught for the first time, it is always a ticket to fix your license. The ticket allows the car driver to go free, provided they fix their license plate within the required time. Depending on the state, a fine may accompany your ticket in some circumstances. The fine can range from $50 to $500.

However, if the state catches you more than once or the situation involves injury to others or destruction of properties, there’s a high possibility the law agencies will issue you a ticket charging you to court.

If the court finds you guilty, it may charge you a fine that ranges from $500-$25,000, depending on the severity of your case. It may suspend your license and make you do community service or sentence you to jail. In some cases, the state may inflict two or all punishments on offenders.

Jail time can range from a period of 10 days to 5 years. It depends on the depth of your offense and your state.

It is better to abide by the regulations and laws your state mandates regarding license plates to avoid legal complications. To have a good car owner experience, make inquiries from your state Department of Motor Vehicles for proper guidelines. Heed all instructions on application and maintenance by your state laws.

Related: Can Police Cars Detect No Insurance? (Explained)

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