Across wide swaths of America, drivers aren't required to display a front license plate on their passenger cars. But it's different in Ohio, where a motorist was fatally shot in Cincinnati during a traffic stop prompted by his failure to display a front plate.
None of Ohio's border states requires two plates. But 34 states and U.S. territories do, mostly in the Northeast and the West.
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State legislatures that write license plate laws constantly debate the front-plate issue. States without a requirement, such as Michigan, contemplate adding one — citing evidence that the front plate is a useful tool for law enforcement.
Meanwhile, states requiring the front plate talk of scrapping the mandate as a cost savings to drivers. Ohio legislators raised the issue again as recently as this year, though it didn't go anywhere.
Few front-plate laws have changed in recent years, said Anne Teigen, program principal at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures over transportation and criminal justice.
According to a database maintained by the group, 19 states — including Ohio neighbors Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky — require only a single plate.
Opponents of selling a driver two front plates say it opens up the possibility of fraud and raises privacy issues. Front plates are known to facilitate the use of digital law enforcement equipment, including increasingly controversial red-light cameras. Some owners of luxury and collectible cars oppose front plates for aesthetic reasons, and still others dislike the added expense.
Proponents of two plates argue the reflective surface can warn drivers when an oncoming car's headlights are off or help an officer see a plate better in daytime. Studies also show front plates allow for more parking and toll violators to be tracked down.
Among supporters of dual license plate programs are the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Authority.