Lawmakers, drivers say N.J. should ditch front license plates on cars

LE groups have criticized the proposal as bad for public safety, noting that dangerous drivers are often identified by those front plates


By Larry Higgs
nj.com

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey could join the ranks of 19 other states that don’t require vehicles to have a front license plate if a bill passes the state legislature.

It’s not just the bill’s three sponsoring state legislators asking for the change. Standing with them are almost 11,000 people who signed a Change.org petition in favor of New Jersey becoming a one-plate state.

A line of parked cars all display front license plates as required by New Jersey law. Two bills in the legislature and a petition call for the state to drop the requirement for a front license plate.
A line of parked cars all display front license plates as required by New Jersey law. Two bills in the legislature and a petition call for the state to drop the requirement for a front license plate. (Larry Higgs)

Currently, New Jersey requires drivers to display both front and rear license plates. Neighboring Pennsylvania doesn’t require front plates, while next door New York state does.

Legislators who proposed the rear plate only bill cite the same reasons as the authors of the petition - lower license plate production costs, and lower costs to drivers.

“It’s the cost of manufacturing two plates. It’s not a huge savings, but motor vehicle charges would go down,” said state Sen. Vincent Polistina, R- Atlantic, who co-sponsored the bills with state Sen. Edward Durr, R- Gloucester.

A companion bill has been introduced in the state Assembly by Rep. Bethanne McCarthy Patrick, R- Salem. Currently, failure to display a front license plate carries a $100 fine.

The authors of the petition say eliminating the front license plate could save millions of dollars in production costs.

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Not all new vehicles are equipped with front license plate brackets, meaning it’s up to the owner to drill holes or display it in another fashion, the petitioners wrote. Newer hybrid vehicles need the front grill space occupied by a license plate for cooling purposes, Polistina said.

While he wasn’t aware of the petition supporting the one plate idea, Polistina said he welcomes the support. The bill is currently waiting for a hearing by the state Senate transportation committee.

“Everyone recognizes we don’t need it (front license plates),” he said. “If the bill is posted (for a vote), it has a good shot. It’s the right time to eliminate it and save money.”

Law enforcement groups, however, oppose the idea.

Wayne Blanchard, president of State Troopers Fraternal Association, criticized the proposal as bad for public safety, noting that dangerous drivers are often identified by those front plates. Having both front and back plates allows police officers and good Samaritans to quickly identify hazardous drivers and those who may be intoxicated, he said.

For criminal investigations, police often depend on being able to identify the locations of suspect vehicles, Blanchard added.

”Crime is transient and we’re talking about an era now where our motor vehicle thefts are through the roof,” he said. “Heroin trafficking, fentanyl trafficking, gun violence are through the roof. So why take away a potential public safety tool from the police just to save a few dollars on the motor vehicle side of things. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Blanchard also noted that law enforcement agencies across New Jersey are investing in automated license plate readers “specifically because of the violent crime in our communities.”

These systems are mounted in fixed locations and in police vehicles, and capture computer-readable images of license plates. The state Attorney General’s Office announced a $10 million investment in that technology in April as part of an effort to crack down on violent crime and a rise in vehicle thefts.

”So now you’re basically saving money on one end and throwing it right back out the window if we’re not going to allow the technology to be effective for us,” Blanchard said.

But a driver advocacy group that has long supported the measure rebukes those concerns, and says there are other considerations — like cost, convenience, and aesthetics — that are important to drivers.

“This is one of those perennial issues that seems to have cycled back,” said Steve Carrellas, National Motorists Association state policy director. “NMA supports the idea as it always has.”

“The reason for going to one plate has always been cost and it is easier to only have to deal with mounting one plate to the vehicle,” he said. “Most complaints for this idea come from police, in terms of them claiming to be able to identify vehicles, but that’s a red herring since it can still be done easily enough with the rear plate that is also required to be illuminated at night.”

Newer license plates are also reflective, increasing the chance they can be read by people, police and enforcement cameras, he said.

“Since there are enough states with a one-plate requirement, most, if not all automated enforcement, including toll enforcement, use the rear plate,” Carrellas said. “There really is no good reason these days to have a front plate.”

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Reporter Matt Gray contributed to this report.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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