Ask the Motor Cop | What’s the point of requiring front license plates?


I received a question from Jerrod regarding vehicles that don’t have front license plates displayed. It is the law in California.  

California Vehicle Code 5200 (a) states, “When two license plates are issued by the department for use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and one in the rear.”   

Front license plates do serve a purpose. I can recall witnesses obtaining license numbers regarding some very important followup and advising me that they only got a glimpse of the front plate from their position. There might also be a factor in properly obtaining important information by the use of license plate readers. 

Regarding the disturbance of airflow reducing fuel efficiency caused by a front plate displayed, I might argue the fact that with a license plate removed, there remains the front of the vehicle behind it or the bumper itself. 

On any given day, there are approximately six motor officers (deputies) at roll call. After roll call, these deputies are set out to enforce our traffic laws on the streets and highways of Santa Clarita. The population of Santa Clarita is approximately 225,000. These deputies will be working areas of concern, concentrating on locations that have set a pattern for traffic collisions and/or complaints. And consider this: With just a few deputies on their beat, some will be spending time in court on occasion. 

Not having a front license plate, or having tinted windows, is not generally a priority for these deputies. I agree that something should be done and I am sure that deputies do stop and cite for this violation on occasion. 

When I was working my area, in Van Nuys Division, if I were issuing a typical citation and then observed no front license plate displayed or tinted windows on the vehicle, I would usually incorporate those additional violations on the citation. I didn’t ride around looking for vehicles without front license plates. And I wouldn’t count on the patrol deputies to be going out of their way, either. Their plates are usually full.  

Jerrod, to comment on your statement: “A regulation that is routinely ignored breeds contempt for the law, and should be repealed for that reason alone.”  

The words “routinely ignored” make it sound like law enforcement doesn’t care, and I don’t believe that is the case. It doesn’t work that way, for the reasons above.   

Drive carefully. 

Jerry Schlund, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a retired Los Angeles Police Department motor officer with over 24 years riding. He was a certified radar instructor — both laser and doppler — and was instrumental in California vehicle code amendments. He was a traffic school instructor for 25 years. Have a question for the motor cop? Send your questions to [email protected]  

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