Saturday, December 27, 2008

A roadtrip observation...

A license plate on your car was originally intended to serve a single function: To show that you had paid a road-use tax for that vehicle. As time has gone by, that purpose has gradually expanded and now the little placards are used as a sort of bar code, identifying your vehicle (and theoretically its occupant) for various .gov observers.

The states in which I've resided as an adult (Georgia, Tennessee, and Indiana) are all relatively "free" states. They share liberal gun laws, 70 MPH speed limits (which means a de facto 80) on the interstates, low income taxes (or no income tax, in the case of TN), and are not generally known for nanny-state legislative climates. As I was tooling southbound on I-75, I couldn't help but noticing something odd. All the Ohio and Illinois cars had a feature that was foreign to me: They had license plates on the front of their vehicles.

I decided to look into it.

It appears the correlation is far from perfect, because there are some fine and free states (AK, MT, NH, TX, WY) that want to brand your car like a steer, and for some reason that California of the South, N. Carolina, hasn't gotten around to handing out a front license plate, but there is definitely a moderately accurate relationship between front license plates and places I would not want to live...

43 comments:

George said...

Carolina isn't so bad. The taxes are a bit high, and the carry laws could stand a good expanding. Of course, I came from New York, so for me this is paradise.

KurtP said...

In Texas it's more on the optional side.
They issue you two plates, but about half the front plate you see are boosters for Aggies, Longhorns, the Cowboys and in San Antonio- the Spurs.

It's not like Officer Obie will pull you over for not having a front plate.

Jenny said...

That struck me as the oddest thing first time I went out west - it seemed almost the reverse of what I'd expect. Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana being hardly bastions of statist thought.

Curious. Any idea why?

Mykl said...

Building on KurtP's comment - the key thing for registration in TX is the window sticker. Seems tags were at one time (still?) a highly valued commodity to legitimize stolen or new-to-Texas vehicles. The inside-window sticker and current tag were necessary for registration legitimacy.

perlhaqr said...

See, now here I just figured New Mexico was a hold out on the one plate thing, and that only because we were too poor to afford one for each end of the vehicle.

I love the fact that CA (or San Francisco, at least) red light cameras are set up to take a shot of the front plate.

Anonymous said...

In Ohio, it is the target for the radar device. A big, flat square, that has a wonderful radar return. You get around it, but putting the damn thing on the passenger's sunshade and leaving it down. When they catch you it's a $50.00 fine otherwise. It also defeats the red-light cameras.

I ain't signing my name to this.

Anonymous said...

In Montana the Front Plate is Optional. You get two when you get plates but you only have to display a rear plate

WyoJack said...

Wyoming derives a considerable amount of revenue from car registrations. So much so that a sticker is on the front as well as the rear plate. Me thinks it's easier for Johnny Law to see if the registration is up to date. Course we don't have any state income tax so there's some offset. And the gun laws here are basically non-existant. All in all, a good state!

CGHill said...

Here in Soonerland, we're basically too cheap to give you two plates.

Bob said...

North Carolina isn't so much the California of the south as it is the New Jersey of the south; Californians don't emigrate here, but New Jerseyites do, in large numbers, which enrages my sister to no end; she's rather anti-Semitic because of exposure to what she terms pushy Jews from New Jersey.

phlegmfatale said...

Aw, crappity!
This means we'll never be able to persuade you to move to Texas, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Michigan only issues one plate but it also has a law that a car in a parking lot must be driven in so that the plate shows.


Glenn Kelley

Ken said...

Ohio's tax code is teh stoopid, but it's shall-issue for CCW and open carry for everyone else, with state-level preemption. Local understanding of open carry could use a little work.

Ed Foster said...

Not absolute, but a trend.
Oddly, Vermont, which is run by self-proclaimed Socialists up in Montpelier/Burlington/Vergennes, is, outside the Hippy/Doofus urban area on the lake, the most free place east of Idaho.
Pretty much everything that effects you is decided in the town meeting. When you transfer registration on a vehicle you change the plates over, fill out the form, and send it in to Montpelier with a money order.
If you get stopped (which only happens if you're massively s--tfaced and weaving), the carbon from your money order is your registration, should the two or three ladies who handle the entire state not have gotten the new paperwork to you yet.
The permit to carry, open or concealed, is called a Vermont State Driver's Licence, and there are no state laws against full auto weapons. They also pretty much shut the state down for deer season.
I lived there during a colorful part of my youth, and still miss the place and the people.
Not the loony magnet around U. VT in Burlington (Sodom and Gomorrah on the lake), but the rest of the place.
A place where a good garden, a 30-30, a shed full of firewood, and a part time job gives you the time and security needed to concentrate on the important things in life, like deer hunting and target shooting.
I was out on the free public rifle range on Rt 9, a few miles west of Brattleboro one day, and saw a half dozen National Guardsmen , all in civilian clothes, unload their M-16's and M-14's for a practice session.
They were trying out for the State rifle team in a month, so their C.O. gave them each a thousand rounds of ammo and told them to take their weapons home for a few weeks and practice. If they needed more ammo, they were just to call him. Dang, that's more like Switzerland than most places in the U.S.

John A said...

Heh. I am old enough to remember when the second license plate was dropped to save gas. Maybe not as much as proper tire inflation...

Matt G said...

"It's not like Officer Obie will pull you over for not having a front plate."

Well, yes and no. If you've got a car that it's simply impossible to put one on (like the guy in town who saved all his pennies for 20 years and has a little bitty pointy-nosed Lotus that he parks in front of his trim double-wide), we tend to ignore it... usually.

Frankly, the No Front License Plate stop is just a hip-pocket stop, for most TX LEOs, for Persons We'd Like To Meet. I've written a citation for it once in my career. I've made a BUNCH of stops on it, though. I've seen couples share one set of plates on the backs of two pickups of the same year, thinking that they would save on taxes.

I'm pretty certain that identification of a given car was as much an original function as was a tax stamp, Tamara. Gotta ID who just ran over your dog, you know?

ditto said...

Back in the day, NY used to provide 3 tags. One for the rear, one for the front and the third for your keychain. (it was much smaller than the ones you put on your car, Smarta**'s)
I guess the third one was for when you were double parked and they called out your tag number to let you know your vehicle was being towed or the cops were writing you a ticket.

Aaron said...

Here in the great state of Washington, we're required to have both front and back plates. The one time I inquired about it, I was told it was to my wreck identification easier. Two plates means twice the chance that they'll easily be able to glance at a wreck and run the plates through their magic dash-mounted computers to find out all about the vehicle.

I'm not sure I believe that that's really the primary function, but I've always found it interesting that that's the one the traffic cop gave me.

Jeff said...

It seems to be optional here in NV. I was a little worried about it when I moved here to Vegas from IN since I don't have a front plate holder on my car. I was told by a couple of guys at work that they haven't had a front plate for 15 years, don't worry about it. So far so good. I'd put the damn thing on if I had a holder but for now I just have both of them screwed on the back.

NV is a fairly free state, Vegas seems to have fucked it all up because of the people from CA moving in and trying to impose their values on the place.

Farm.Dad said...

CO uses the front plate , as well as requiring plates on trailers ( as well as some other weird vehicles ) . Why .... I donno i grew up with the system and considered it standard , kinda like a " farm " plated vehicle can use the died desiel " anywhere in the state , and up to 150 miles from home " crap . and the fact that i have at least one ( the one i will mention ) SUV plated as a farm truck ( its an 87 bronc that my son mostly uses , and he uses it to haul firewood on a trailer for him and a bud or two ) its plated farm because i can and its cheaper both on the plates , and on the insurance ( hey play the no fault all ya can ). Down at the step dad's place in OK ( near Hugo ) they have a different attitude , No Plate ?? No Problem , but btw just who the hell are you and why are you here ? is what they want to know . Ill say that the " locals " down there dont really like me , but i have been shooting with some , a few i have taken hunting on ground they could not access otherwise , and we have come to an " understanding " . Ill never be a " Local " there but for a " Dammed import from CO " i am not a bad guy , and more imporntant neither is my step dad , since he really thinks that the fix to things is 1. talk lowder , and 2. throw money .

karrde said...

Learn a new thing every day.

I had no idea that backing into a parking spot in Michigan might be against the law.

See, I know someone who does it all the time...

Robert said...

"Vegas seems to have fucked it all up because of the people from CA moving in and trying to impose their values on the place."

Jeff...just one of the reasons why some of us up in northern Nevada refer to LV as "East LA." ;)

Oh, and the front plate thing does seem to be fairly optional here. I have a great big SUV so it doesn't change anything to have front plates on, but if I had a car that had no front holder I probably wouldn't bother displaying the front plates either.

MedicMatthew said...

Up nawth here in Maine both plates are required, not having a front plate is a ticketable offense, hell it is a primary offense meaning that lack of a front plate is probable cause for a traffic stop. Bahstids

Nate said...

Front licence plates is a real pet peeve of mine- required by law here in Utah. But I've removed mine from my truck in protest for 5+ years and nobody's said a word.

As for their value, I think if the legislature, or the police for that matter, really believed in their value, the annual tax sticker and a light illuminating the front plate would be required. Since the front plate isn't required to be lit, as is the rear plate, I take it that the powers that be don't really care.

So why not change the law and be done with them?

Anonymous said...

SFAIK, Texas has always regarded the plates as a means of ID of any vehicle. Two plates since before I was born in 1934, anyway...

Used to be, you got new plates every year. Then, with increased costs of everything, they went to the little sticker tag on existing plates. Folks started stealing those, so now it's a sticker inside the windshield.

But, I don't guess we've really worried about it as being any big deal...

Art

Mike W. said...

No front plates here in Delaware thankfully. I always thought they looked terrible.

David said...

When I moved from TX to CA over 20 years ago the front plate was stolen off my car, the day before I left TX. I reported it to the TX DOT and left the state.

Two days after arriving in CA I was pulled over for driving without a front plate. I pointed out to the officer that my car was registered in TX and that is where my front plate was.

The nice officer decided I was being a smart ass and wrote me a fix-it ticket, which the officer explained would cost me nothing as long as I fixed the problem. Which he then pointed out that I should fix within the week as I had moved to CA. The nice officer didn't seem to know that a fix-it ticket carries no fine, but like all tickets does carry a $35 administrative fee to get rid of it.

So I had been in CA only two days, did not have a place to live yet, and was already being screwed by the state bureaucracy. I should have just moved out immediately. But I thought the new job might work out, so I stayed. That was 23 years, 2 houses, a wife and three kids ago. Now I'm probably going to die in this loony liberal midden heap.

But I make sure I keep both plates on my car now. Bored small town cops are a pain in the ass.

rickn8or said...

Art--

Yeah, they steal the stickers here in Memphis, too, so we've taken to cross-hatching the stickers with a razor blade/knife immediately after installation. That way, the thief only gets pieces, not a complete sticker.

My Kanzsitty GF thought I was nuts the first time she saw me do it. Since then, I've given her plenty of other reasons to think so.

Tam said...

Art,

"But, I don't guess we've really worried about it as being any big deal..."

Like I said, I don't think it's a strict correlation. In TX? Prob'ly don't mean much. In CA? It's symptomatic...

Seth from Massachusetts said...

I've lived in the Peoples Republic of Mass. all my life, and most of that time we had front and rear plates, but were issued one little sticker every other year to prove regrestration which we put on the rear plate only.

When I was a boy in the '50's father would receive two brand new plates every December and put them on New Years day. By July all the paint would have fallen off and the plate would be an unreadable mass of rust. We always assumed that meant the money for good quality paint had gone into some public official's pocket.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

When I bought my first car in AK, I didn't know it was necessary to have a front plate - it didn't come with one.

Three years later, I got a parking ticket downtown for no plate. So it's really true, legally, but enforcement is, ah, spotty even in our most heavily urban area.

Rob K said...

The idea of front plates was floated here some years ago. It got smacked down pretty quick. The idiot who suggested it even said it was for the convenience of the police in issuing tickets. That's when I first formulated the thought that any law made strictly for the convenience of the police was plainly immoral.

I'm still irritated that they dropped the county number from the license number.

rickn8or said...

Rob K--

They dropped the county number here in Tennessee, too, but substituted a strip with the county name on it. That way, you don't have to memorize any charts to realize that idiot that's been clogging the fast lane for the last ten miles while chatting on the cell phone isn't being inconsiderate; it's because they're from Shelby county and don't know any better.

kahr40 said...

No front plate in NC and please don't give 'em any ideas.

NC is a shall issue state, but the local sheriff has a more latitude than I like in how much BS go have to go through to get it. There are also so many places you can't carry I often wonder what advantage having one offers other than it serves as your permit to purchase as well as carry. You have to get a permit to purchase handguns over and above the NICS check. But open carry is permitted. They do tax the hell out of us and we send twits like David Price to Congress. NC is a mixed bag but hardly the California of the South. On the other hand I've lived here all my life and don't really have anything else to compare it to.

JPG said...

This is NOT properly researched, so take it for what it may be worth - - -
I noticed the difference as a kid - - two plates in Texas, one in Oklahoma. I believe it was my paternal grandfather who told me that in World War II, use of front license plates was discontinued in the interest of conserving strategically-needed steel. Newly-removed front LPs were a prime target for Boy Scouts and others on scrap metal drives. Not that there wasn't a bunch of other abandoned scrap metal in the oil patches of OK and N. Texas . . . .

Once the war was over and metal not so much needed for war mateary-ell, the "more prosperous" states went back to using two plates. Other, smaller or poorer states didn't bother.

That's the way I heard it, over half a century ago.

JPG

CGHill said...

The front plate in Oklahoma was indeed dropped in 1944 due to the WWII steel shortage.

Steve Skubinna said...

WA just recently went to rear plate only. Like in the past couple years, I think. Or so I thought, when I last reregistered and got single plates for each car, with instructions to place them on the rear. The map, however, says different.

Maybe it's county optional. I live in Mason County, which has exactly one incorporated area, and even the gays drive beat up pickups with gun racks and NRA stickers. It isn't in the same universe as Seattle or Olympia.

fastbike said...

I wasn't going to comment, but geez Tam, this is the most lame piece I've read from you. Not to mention that with everything else that happens in life, how many license plates are on my car never has made the list.

Tam said...

kahr40,

"NC is a mixed bag but hardly the California of the South."

It's kind of a joke; obviously NC is no actual California, and is only Nanny-Statish when compared to some of the surrounding states; it's still a balmy oasis of freedom when compared to most of the Northeast or the West Coast. (...actually, the state it most reminds me of, legislatively, is Washington, with the progressives of RDU standing in for Seattle...)

I first heard the term when I lived in Georgia, and commented on having seen unmarked NC cop cars performing traffic stops on the interstate, which is illegal in GA.

The Freeholder said...

No need to defend the remark; I understand the context. As a native-born North Carolinian, I've watched an influx of Yankees turn my home into NY-lite. The big cities are not North Carolina any more; 75% of the inhabitants speak with foreign accents. That's why I moved away from the big cities.

(Of course, if you want to talk about true problem immigrants, let's talk about our illegals. Good Lord!)

I live outside a smaller town. It's a nice place, and people mostly talk like me. My sheriff is a decent sort, and will usually sign for a NFA purchase with no problems. Never had a problem with CCP, either, although I have to agree that the list of places where we may not carry limits the utility of the permit. Still, I don't have to do NICS checks or get pistol permits (spit), so it's worth the $20/year or so it takes to have one.

Taxes are high, but I think we can blame our home-grown liberals for that at least as much as we can our new immigrants.

And to defend at least some of the new folks, they aren't all bad. I've ran into plenty that moved here from Up North specifically because it is less regulated. They love the fact that they can at least own a gun, even if they have to jump through hoops that most of us natives think are unConstitutional. And from talking to them, our taxes, while high, are nothing compared to where they came from.

The funniest thing is when their little kids start talkin' Southern. My oh my but does that bother them!

Anonymous said...

In both Nebraska and Iowa a front plate is required

bob r said...

WA just recently went to rear plate only.

That is not correct: RCW 46.16.240 requires a plate on both front and back of a "passenger" car.

They do, however, only issue one tag. The tag is to be placed on the rear plate.

Charles said...

Heh, got into it with my (then) future mother-in-law about this back when I was stationed in Maryland and had just started dating the poor lady who is now my wife. First time she saw my truck she flipped out because I had Tennessee tags on the truck, but I lived in Maryland and had no plans to change the tags over. Had to explain in detail about how I would be moved around alot and the fed didn't have a problem with me keeping my truck titled in my home state. Month or two later she notices that instead of having a (State of) Tennessee tag on the front bumper I have a (University of) Tennessee tag. Another long drawn out conversation and she finally believed that not every state made you have tags on the front and back.

The real kicker of all this was that she had been a meter maid for the city of Baltimore for years.