North Dakota Legislation Would Eliminate Need for a Front License Plate

North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi holds up the new license plate that the department began issuing Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, during a press conference at DOT headquarters in Bismarck. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

Yesterday during while I was with my colleague Jay Thomas on WDAY he was griping about North Dakota’s requirement for a front license plate on cars. Jay is a bit of a car guy and doesn’t find the front plates to be aesthetically pleasing.

Turns out state Rep. Mark Owens, a Republican from Grand Forks, was way ahead of him. HB1084, which you can read in full below, would eliminate the legal requirement for a front license plate.

“You only need one license plate on your vehicle, period,” Owens told me this morning, adding that there would still need to be a plate. “on the rear of the vehicle.”

Here’s the pertinent changes from the bill:

Owens told me that there are a lot of people in North Dakota who aren’t following the existing law requiring a front license plate anyway, something he noticed during a recent drive from Grand Forks to Bismarck for the legislative session. “I decided to take a little survey coming down the road,” Owens told me. “I ran across nine cars that only had one license plate. Two were from Minnesota, that’s their problem, but seven of them were from North Dakota.”

He also said that many vehicles in North Dakota can lawfully display only one plate. “We have so many vehicles – morocycles, atv’s – that are on the road with only one license plate,” Owens said.

I asked him if he was expecting any push back on his legislation, and he said that law enforcement agencies would likely object.

“We’ve heard it in the past I’m sure we’ll hear it again,” he told me adding that in the past the cops have argued that front places are nice so that vehicles can be identified from the front. He said the state’s new plates, which no longer feature raised numbers and letters, eliminate one argument cops used to make.

Owens said they’ve argued in the past that front plates can leave impressions in snow banks at accident scenes allowing vehicles involved to be identified, but that obviously won’t be the case any more even if there is a front plate.

I’m a bit ambivalent about this. Having a front license plate doesn’t bother me all that much, but I wonder if there is a cost savings for taxpayers.

A requirement for only one plate means a 50 percent reduction in the number of plates the state must create. Is that a savings which could be passed on to the taxpayers? Or used to defray the state’s budget shortfalls?

Questions worth asking as this legislation goes forward.

Here’s the full bill:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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