COLUMN: Eliminating front license plates would cost money, not save it

Thursday, March 25, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:52 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Let’s face it, we all get a bit nervous when we see the red and blue lights of a police car when we are driving. “What did I do wrong?” is usually followed by “this time” for those of us who tend to have a heavy right foot.

Even when the lights are burning into your rear view mirror from one mile back, the nerves still raise a few hairs on the back of your neck, and as you pull over to the right lane, you hope and pray that the state trooper does not join you.

So having a box on a lamppost at a busy intersection that takes your picture if it perceives you have violated the rules concerning red lights is unnerving. Is that legal? Can a private company operate these cameras, evaluate the pictures and then send those that appear to have drivers violating a state law to the controlling police, sheriff or state patrol office for further action?

The same reaction comes when you know that you just passed an innocuous van parked on the side of the road that might have a speed camera inside attached to a speed gun.

Both of these situations might lead to the increasing paranoia of opening your mailbox to find a traffic ticket. Where’s a cop when you need one?

For any of these cameras to work properly, an automobile needs to have a front license plate. At least for the time being.

Now here’s the rub. Along with various lawsuits ranging from which court should handle these remotely issued tickets to the constitutionality of not being able to confront your accuser, the Missouri General Assembly is now looking at the elimination of front license plates.

A quick search on the House and Senate Joint Bill Tracking site shows that five of 12 proposed bills concerning license plates involve removal of a vehicle's front plate. Republicans and Democrats alike think that stamping only one license plate instead of two will save the state money. All of these efforts died either a quick death or have not seen action in more than a month. Yet Sen. Matt Bartle’s is keeping the idea alive as an amendment to SB781.

SB781 is a comprehensive bill concerning the regulation of motor vehicles. You most likely know this as the bill that would outlaw texting while driving for everyone, not just drivers 21 years old and younger.

The amendment, effective Aug. 28 if passed, says that only one license plate will be issued for a private vehicle unless you want to pay an additional $15 for the front plate. If you order a vanity or “special” plate, two will be issued automatically. Will they also charge the extra $15 automatically?

First, the problem is the loss of funds from traffic tickets by the various municipalities and the state that use red-light and speed cameras for enforcement. Without a front plate, how can you properly identify the violating vehicle? The Missouri State Highway Patrol says you cannot.

The Highway Patrol says that the loss of the front plate “could reduce an officer's ability to detect a violation by 50 percent, would have a negative impact on personal property tax collection, mandatory insurance compliance, as well as the collection of license fees.”

How will municipalities, which have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on camera equipment recover loss expenditures and revenue?

Will municipalities have to spend additional money to readopt the current camera systems to catch the front (the driver’s picture) and back (the license plate) of the violating vehicle?

Will the bill really save the state that much money? The fiscal impact note to the bill says the state will lose $1.44 million immediately. That’s the cost of license plates and tags already in stock.

In fact, the fiscal note says that there is “no way to estimate the full impact of this legislation, it assumes an unknown impact.”

SB781 will cost Missouri money, not save it.

The second problem? Who in their right mind would be willing to spend an extra $15 so the municipality can mail you a ticket based on a picture?

To paraphrase an old saying, “Stupidity is nine-tenths of the law.”

David Rosman is a award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at and The New York Journal of Books.



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Don Donovan March 25, 2010 | 9:42 a.m.

Today 19 states and most of Canada do not require front license plates on their cars. The truth is red light cameras and toll booth cameras in states like NY and MA work perfectly fine using only the rear plate of cars from these jurisdictions.

Thank you Senator Bartle for looking out for the taxpayers and finding common sense ways to save resources in this tuff economic time. I hope you succeed.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 25, 2010 | 12:03 p.m.

To the best of my recollection Missouri had only a rear license plate when I was a college student driving a 1946 Chevrolet. At that time having to take a driver's license test was rather new. When it was decreed that there be both front and rear license plates, newspapers and TV said it was being done because the highway patrol and various municipal police wanted to make vehicle identification easier.

Don Donovan, above, has noted that several states and Canadian provinces only require rear automobile license plates. If I'm not mistaken, Arkansas and Kansas are two of the states. This allows drivers to mount "non-standard" front plates touting their universities.

(Report Comment)
phillipp young April 4, 2010 | 10:59 p.m.

if other states can get along with one plate, we can too.why do we need 2?if you drive a pickup tagged over 12000 lbs, you dont have a back tag.thats because you are most likely pulling a trailer so the cops couldnt see the truck tag what difference does it make if a car doesnt have 2 tags?why pay for an unnecessary tag when one works fine?

(Report Comment)
Stephen McClurkin April 20, 2010 | 7:19 p.m.

Well lets see here, removing half the cost, ie removing one (front plate) and tag will SAVE money no matter how you count beans. Maybe thats why Missouri is so DEEP in debt! One plate on the back is enough. I can't remember the last time I saw an officer pull a car over in reverse. THINK ABOUT IT.

(Report Comment)

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