Removing your front license plate might save you money

Yesterday I posted a note from reader Eddie Atherton who had received three tickets over the past year for not having a front license plate on his car. For some, the general sentiment was not of sympathy, and that he should just put the plate on, while Eddie insisted that parking enforcement was targeting people like him for easy revenue.

Unfortunately, an internet search trying to find the reason for needing a front license plate in the first place turned up fruitless, while I found a long list of reasons to repeal the widely adopted law.

After I found a blog entry by Karl Brauer at the auto sales site, I think it might be financially sound for all car owners to remove any existing front license plates from their cars.

Brauer explains makes $4.1 million in front license plate tickets alone – 164,000 tickets at $25 a pop, and that “a far more sinister power” is to blame: red light cameras. (read the whole entry here)

Seems the cameras don’t work so well on cars without front plates, so L.A.-based police have been given a new directive: ticket every vehicle you see without a front plate. We even had one officer admit as much while writing up a co-worker, “See, we need those front plates on your vehicle for the red-light cameras to work.”

He then gets into the math:

At over $351 for a red-light camera ticket, I’d have to get quite a few (15) front license plate tickets to justify helping these electronic demons nab me for $351… No thanks, I’ll take my chances with police officers who have nothing better to do than write $25 tickets for not having a front plate.

So, maybe there is something to Eddie’s conspiracy theory… if you’re willing to gamble that the next time you run through a red light, a camera won’t be able to snag your back license plate.

In the meantime, there’s one of those useless internet petitions available to “eradicate” California’s front license plate law, so far it has 17,406 signatures. If you add your name, please sure to leave a comment that sent you!

31 thoughts on “Removing your front license plate might save you money”

  1. You know why they’re keeping the front plates? Red light cameras. When I first moved here, I came from Indiana, which doesn’t have front plates, and I accidentally ran a red light (thought I made it through the yellow, but didn’t) and the camera only took a photo of the front of my car.

    Front plates = ticket money.

  2. DJG: Of course, its hard to prove that it took a picture of only the front of your car. Such is the root of all conspiracy theories and urban legends!

  3. I kept getting ticketed when I first moved to LA.

    I had a Camry with 150,000 miles on it (all in Ohio, I might add). I couldn’t get the damn Ohio plate off. Eventually I took a hacksaw to it and got it off, but ruined the mounting for the front plate. So I just put my lovely new CA plate in the front windshield.

    Some meter cop tried to write me up but I showed the busted screws and the mangled Ohio plate to him (I used to leave it in the back seat) and he didn’t give me a ticket for it. That time.

    Eventually I got another car and didn’t have this problem.

    For the record I also paid that stupid “No California Emissions Sticker” fee when I moved here too. $420 bucks or something just because my car was purchased in Ohio … but it still passed the emissions test! Eventually I got a rebate on it, but $420 bucks was a lot of money to be back in those days. Okay, it’s still a lot of money.

  4. Gads…the string that not only gets longer but multiplies. The front plate is there to ID oncoming traffic for a variety of reasons. Photo radar and Photo Red Light tickets are only the newest uses that depend on the front plate. Good luck in getting it repealed. Some states such as AZ and NV have gotten outright biligerent with the enforcement. Until it changes, and I don’t think it will, no matter how many petitions are sent. One must decide “Is this battle worth fighting” and live with the consequences if you decide civil disobedience is your best course.

    whine whine whine….CA has had tougher smog controls for years and penalties for out of state cars that can’t meet our standards. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as its all over the DMV stuff you can get. I came from out of state and had to get my car to pass, but it was worth it in the end. Once you get past the no CA sticker, you have to just pass the dirtier Federal standard and if you can’t pass that you deserve to have it up on blocks. How many here remember the years when you had several smog alerts so bad the air was thick brown and hurt to breathe? Don’t want to go back to those days, ever.

    Also..the plate in the front windshield works because the motor vehicle code isn’t precise enough on how it is displayed, just has to be visible from the front.

  5. How about you just don’t run red lights? The ticket price sucks, yes, and accidents happen, yes, but there’s a reason why the red light cameras were installed in the first place, and it’s not because LA loves to piss on its residents. It’s because running red lights is VERY DANGEROUS. I’ve never seen so many people take such egregious risks just to get somewhere faster.

    The argument not to have a front plate because it will keep you from getting a ticket when you BREAK THE LAW is just stupid.

    On another angle, in Florida, where I grew up, there was an epidemic of kidnappings. We all knew the description of the suspected vehicle, but Florida only requires license plates on one side of the car, meaning that even when the vehicle was spotted (multiple times around my elementary school) it took weeks before anyone saw it from behind so they could get a look at the plate number. I still can’t fathom why any one thinks this fight against front plates is really worth fighting.

  6. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. LA is installing new red-light cameras that photograph the rear plate too. Here’s a link that has an article that originally appeared in the LA Times last year (I can’t find it on the LA Times site :( . I think that the ticket writers just want to keep their quota up (they say that there is no quota, but I don’t believe it.)Besides, what’s wrong with just never running red lights?

  7. Allison/Mike:
    I received a ticket for running a red light. This wasn’t a simple case of deliberately running the light, or an innocent oversight. Instead, the light in question was rigged so the yellow to red transition would be as short as possible, but didn’t take into consideration the incline the road was on. In the meantime, the same light in question (at LaBrea and Franklin) has seen a number of accidents that have been caused by people trying to gun it through the yellow to avoid getting snagged by the red, or people slamming on the breaks and being rear ended.

    I understand the principle behind red light cameras, and people shouldn’t run them, but the system that currently manages them tries to game them so the intent is to gain as much revenue as possible without regard to actual safety. They do change the behavior of the people who drive by them, but not necessarily for the better.

  8. Mike…you hit it on the head, never run a red then there are no problems. There is a bizarre wrinkle in the motorvehicle code that says if any part of your car is in the intersection when the light cycles you are allowed to enter unimpeded. The cameras are aimed and timed in such a way that a car in the intersection when the light turns red won’t be photo ticketed, rather its timed to grab those ENTERING after the light cycled to red.
    Yes, you are photo’d entering after the light is red.
    How do I know this? Back in the day as a cube dweller I took 3 fatal accidents to trial in LA on that very issue and the experts on both sides agreed that is the timing.
    Rather than tipping the cops off that you are a scofflaw there are better ways to “camoflage” your front plate….super high gloss clear paint so the flash simply produces a white glare where the plate should be. Prevents those rare occassions where you try to squeese the lemon and pop a cherry at one of those intersections.
    Now can we find something more pressing to blog about?

  9. Fraz:
    Something more pressing to blog about? Are you kidding? The last entry about this has almost 30 comments so far – a near record! So it MUST be important.
    Right? No?
    okay… moving on…

  10. This is the kind of reasoning that suggests you should shoot convenience store clerks so they can’t testify against you when you burgle the place. Just keep piling on the crimes and maybe you’ll get away with it.

    The idea isn’t to drive as fucked-uply as you can get away with. Don’t be a dick, comply with the entirely reasonable vehicular laws, and quit bitching that there’s stuff that you think you might be able to skate on but can’t quite pull off.

  11. Whatever you do, just don’t come down to Venice during the summer without a front license plate. I live right on Pacific between Washington & Venice in front of an area with a large red curb. The cops (especially motorcycle cops) sit there and just watch the stop and go traffic looking for cars with no front license plate or for people not wearing seat belts. They use it as an excuse to pull them over, run their plates and look for other things to write them up for.

    It’s pretty sad to see people just out for a day at the beach getting tagged because of a license plate.

    You should also be careful to make sure the little light over your rear license plate is working as well. You can also get pulled over for that.

  12. Am I wrong, or is the “no front plate” ticket a fix-it ticket, meaning that you don’t get fined if you can prove that you’ve (at least as far as the cops know) fixed the problem?

  13. FRAZGO – you misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with my car. It passed emission standards well below on all marks. It was simply a penalty for bringing a car into California. It was repealed and rebated back in 2000.

    I was just offering an experience.

  14. replying to M:
    the last time i got a no front plate ticket was on christmas nite in little tokyo, years ago. the person who issued the citation post dated the ticket for 10:30 the following morning!

    anyway – the situation was then:
    a fix-it ticket, yes. but not free.
    providing proof that the front plate had been installed reduced the fine from $25 to $10 and made the front of my car less visually appealing, though lawfully compliant.

  15. who cares about frot plates? what about the fact that we have to gove a thumbprint to THE MAN kust to get a drivers liscense… papers pleae…

  16. Hi Cybelle…I knew what you were talking about, the no CA Emissions sticker had a penalty attached for years. It permitted you to bring in a non-complying car and served as a deterrent to keep too many from getting in. Eventually it was repealed…too late to do me any good.
    Lots of chatter on something so mundane as a front plate makes me wonder more about what state of flux humanity currently resides in.

  17. Wait a sec Fraz, I could have put my front plate on my dash and avoided all those tickets?

    DOH…… *smacks forehead*

  18. Frazgo:
    Have you watched Episode #73 of Mythbusters entitled “Beating the Speed Camera?” Just FYI…

    I concur with the “don’t break the law in the first place” thought. Since I heard the stats a few years ago about how many people die/get injured while running yellow/red lights, I have really really slowed down at intersections. If I’m not first in line on a yellow, I usually don’t go — sometimes annoying the person behind me. Then I sit there, smugly, feeling safe and law-abiding and alive.

  19. Julia, yes, am aware that you can still get caught glossing over your front plate, more so in daylight than night where the flash is considerably brighter than the ambient light. I didn’t see the episode you are talking can imagine it followed the same premise. (The link gave me the dreaded 404 code).
    (And I’m with you, seen enough light disputes to never ever want to get caught in one so I don’t try to squeese lemons either. Especially in some parts of this city and the valley where left turners assume yellow is the same as a green left turn arrow. Its better to be rear ended than be stuck in a light dispute.)

  20. “Removing your front license plate might save you money” when you’re out breaking even more serious laws.


  21. Just to clarify my position from the original thread…. My Honda Element, which came with proper mounting hardware has a front plate and I’d never remove it to try and beat a ticket.

  22. I drive a ’91 Honda I purchased in 2000 from Colonial Honda in Glendale. Without a front plate. And they refused to provide one. I have been driving it all these years averaging 2-3 tickets a year, figuring it’s the price of business. I have already gotten 2 tickets so far this year, both in front of my house in Silverlake, once on street cleaning day (expected-should have remembered to park in the driveway) and middle of the night on a Tuesday (fuck you)

    The hassle of getting a front plate is huge. You can’t just order another plate, you have to get a whole new license plate number assigned, change it all over and deal with the trail of paperwork. So far it just hasn’t been worth $75 a year. I don’t run lights and have never had a traffic ticket (knock wood) so that whole issue doesn’t concern me.

    I had always talked about fabricating a fake front plate-as long as it looked good at a 8 foot glance and had the right numbers on it, I wondered if it would suffice. Could I just write the numbers on paper and post it on the front dash?

  23. Robyn,

    My Honda is from the same place! Can I make a suggestion? Look at the back plate and see if when it was mounted both plates were stuck together and got mounted on the rear. Seriously, it happens. People think they only received one plate because they are vacu-fused together. If that turns out to be true you can pick up a frame at any auto parts store.

    Um, yeah, it happened to a friend of mine. Really, it was a friend.

  24. I attached my plate to the front of my car with industrial Velcro. I can put it on and take it off anytime I like. Especiially when parking in WeHo, where they will cite you and not leave the ticket. This is so by the time you find out about it it’s too late to pay the lower fix-it price. When the plate is not on the car there is just a horizontal black strip, not too offensive looking IMHO.

    If red light cameras were really about safety instead of revenue, they would be adjusted so that anyone running a red would cause all the lights to remain red until they cleared the intersection as well as take a picture. They don’t do this.

    Just Google red light camera lawsuit and see how honest the calibration has been so far.

  25. WTF on getting a front plate? When I bought my car, it had no front plate. I went to AAA, they gave me a new set of plates, I gave them the old back plate and it was done. No hassles at all. If you’re spending $75/year because of this, it’s because you’re a lazy fool.

  26. Don Hosek-

    What year were you able to do that? When I went to AAA (Burbank location) 18 months ago to take care of this issue, they told me no way. Had to go through DMV. Did they issue you the same plate number? I was told they couldn’t do that either, not even at DMV.

  27. An anecdote from my weekend drive:

    Seen on the 5 in south OC – a BMW 5 or 7 series, shiny, black, gorgeous, with a personalized 9/11 plate on the back (the California Memorial License Plate, the one with the flag and clouds on it) – that said “LAW1”

    Driven by a young girl – I’m guessing a teenager in mom’s or dad’s car.

    Front plate bracket was there alright, but instead of a plate, there was one of those silver plates with the BMW emblem on it.

    THAT has to be the most annoying violation of law of all. Using a plate but not a real legal license plate. I hope the jerks get ticketed repeatedly until they use that OTHER plate the DMV sent them.

  28. The law requiring both front and back license plates has been on the books in California for many, many years. My first vehicle, purchased in 1959, had the old yellow on black plates, front and rear.
    One young man, son of my neighbors, said his car was “styled” to look better without a front plate and besides “I didn’t have to have a front plate when I lived in Arizona” …..
    Which indicates the degree of intelligence as one has nothing to do with the other.
    This young man was also repeatedly ticketed for driving with the expired Arizona plate more than two years after he moved to California, and also for having an expired driver’s license and blacked out front windows and windshield so dark it is impossible to see if anyone is inside the vehicle.
    I have twice had his vehicle towed because he parked in front of my driveway, restricting my exit, because “you don’t never go anywhere in the morning.” The fact that I had to miss a physician’s appointment meant nothing to him.
    I have been driving in southern California, up to 40,000 miles a year, since 1959 and have never been cited and have never been in a motor vehicle accident.
    Needless to say, my insurance rates are exceptional.
    Don’t make excuses for ignoring the law. There are simply too many vehicles on the roads to drive insanely and running a red light is insane, idiotic and just plain juvenile, whatever your age.
    When I still worked in a hospital, we called red-light runners “organ donors” and for good reason.

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