License plates; display of a single plate on registered vehicles. (SB771)

Introduced By

Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach)


Passed Committee
Passed House
Passed Senate
Signed by Governor
Became Law


Number and display of vehicle license plates. Reduces the number of license plates furnished by DMV to registered motor vehicles from two to one and requires the single license plate to be attached to the rear of the vehicle. Read the Bill »


Bill Has Failed


12/18/2012Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/09/13 13101237D
12/18/2012Referred to Committee on Transportation
01/07/2013Impact statement from DPB (SB771)
01/23/2013Stricken at request of Patron in Transportation (14-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)


Stephen writes:

Will this cut the cost of buying plates?

James writes:

No it wouldnt cut the cost but would cut the amount of crap on my car and would love to get rid of front plate along with the inspections. Many other states have gotten rid of the front plates and inspections and safety isnt compromised.

Greg writes:

Who cares about the savings let the state keep the money our cars will look better and we wont have to damage them to comply with the current laws.

Wayne writes:

Photo enforcement for toll booths, police plate scanners, etc. benefit from two data points instead of only one.

It seems to me that proponents of SB771 are proponents of scofflaws - and I'd not support it were I in a position to vote on it.

Jimbo writes:

Good thing you ain't in a position to vote on it.

James writes:

Funny how if you dont want something the cops (revenue generators)or toll collectors do then your a scofflaw. Yes lets do anything the police state wants, anything to make it easier for them cause were all bad. How about our revenue generators focus on real crime and yes I know its hard work and doesnt make money for the state. But we are paying them for this particular job. Wonder how the many other states are able to get plate info from the cars that only have 1 on the back of the car. Oh walk around?? Way to much to ask for.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I sure would like to see a study on this. (Surely somebody has conducted a study on this already, somewhere in the world.) By eliminating front plates, don't we significantly reduce the odds of identifying a vehicle that's fleeing an accident?

Some years ago, I was the victim of a hit-and-run. While stopped at a traffic light, I was rear-ended by a drunk driver at ~35 mph. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to immediately memorize the license plate of the car. When they fled, seconds later, I was able to call 911 (reciting the plate number to myself all the while) and report the perp. If the plate had only been on the back, that would have been impossible.

Does my story mean that this bill is a bad idea? Nope—if we could save, say, a billion dollars a year in exchange for me not having ID'd that drunk, well that would be a good trade. But of course that's exaggerated.

According to the fiscal impact statement, this saves us just $1,833,726 each year, a surprisingly small amount. A single serious accidents can result in $1.8M in injuries, such as for a victim who ends up a paraplegic. If the driver who caused that accident escaped for want of $1.8M in funding, that would be a cruel balance sheet.

Note that the fiscal impact, like the bill, does not reduce the amount of money that we'd pay for drivers licenses, despite that we'd have half as many plates.

James writes:

1.8 million here and there and pretty soon were talking some money. I think maybe we should have plates that are the size of bumpers that you can read say 50 feet away. That should solve a problem. After all everyone has to do this for the few drunks running around. I still wonder how the many states who handle the 1 plate thing. I remember reading a study from I think DC or Florida when they were voting on getting rid of one plate which seemed it didnt harm much at all and they got to pocket the extra cost. Over the course 10 or 20 years your talking some serious money. But either way I guess instead of coming up with ways to cut some spending like many other states we should raise taxes and tolls to pay for everything. Of course the amount we pay wouldnt go down BUT should prevent them from going up to help go towards something that they would argue we need to fund with this new or higher tax/toll/fee. Just trying to cut cost where practical.

Gregg J writes:

If your hit by a drunk driver...the chances they have enough coverage to pay for injuries or any insurance at all is slim. Furthermore, I believe Virginia allows drivers not to have vehicle insurance if they pay a fine to the DMV.

Normally police identify/chase suspect vehicles from the rear. The front plate serves little purpose.

As far as photo enforcement is concerned, my understanding is, the picture taken from the front has to do with identifying the driver and not the license plate. The photo from the rear identifies the license plate. A picture of the driver makes it harder for photo tickets to be challenged in court.

Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania do not require front license plates. Virginia should do the same.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

If your hit by a drunk driver...the chances they have enough coverage to pay for injuries or any insurance at all is slim. Furthermore, I believe Virginia allows drivers not to have vehicle insurance if they pay a fine to the DMV.

I'm not aware of any data showing that people who are involved in accidents while driving drunk are substantially unlikely to have auto insurance. In my case, the driver was insured.

More to the point, I've located a study on the topic, "Front License Plate Market Research: Comparison of Single Versus Dual License Plates," published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. These are the salient points of their research:

front plates are easier to read in the day than rear plates
23% of vehicles cannot be identified by Virginia's toll cameras because they lack rear plates
one Colorado highway would lose 34% of toll revenue if that state didn't require front license plates
Customs finds front plates enormously helpful at Canadian and Mexican border crossings
Pennsylvania is looking to start requiring a front plate, because they cannot read the rear plates on 16% of vehicles passing through their tolling facilities

It's a 33-page study, so there is a lot more to be read. It sounds like there are very real problems associated with eliminating the front license plate.

Anyhow, the point is moot—the bill's patron withdrew the bill.

Gregg J writes:

In my opinion, not being able to read a license plate has little to do with the position (front or rear) and more to do with the reflection of sunlight or other light sources during the day. At night, all rear license plates are required to be illuminated...front plates are not. This makes reading of the rear plate much more likely at night. The only logical reason rear plates may be obsured when in motion is while towing a trailer. Of course most trailers are required to have a license plate anyway. The folks at Texas A&M may not have investigated all causes of reduced plate visibility. It's possible to increase the reflectivity of the plate, making it harder to read especially with photo enforcement. This can be done with front or rear plates so the number of plates is irrelevent.

Drivers most likely paying the DMV fine to drive without insurance are those with lousy driving records including those with DUI convictions.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I appreciate that is your opinion, but I'm going to side with the lengthy, extensively footnoted study with a detailed methodology based on real-world data and conducted by four research scientists. :)

Gregg J writes:

Not a problem, I've reviewed photo radar tickets and stand by my conclusions. Some people may wish for luck and some people make their own.

Good luck to you ;)