Which US States and Canadian Provinces Require a Front and/or Rear License Plate?

The requirement for a front license plate varies by state and province. Currently, there are 29 states in the United States that require front and rear license plates on most motor vehicles. However, many of these states allow exceptions to this rule for motor vehicles other than cars.

Disclaimer:  It is important to check each jurisdiction’s exceptions to front and/or back license plate rules.  You can check US requirements by clicking the hyperlink below provided by the Nevada Department of Highways.  It provides links to specific DMV laws in each state – Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

U.S. States that Require a Front and Rear License Plate

The 29 states in the United States which require both front and rear license plates on automobiles are:

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Connecticut
  4. Hawaii
  5. Idaho
  6. Illinois
  7. Iowa
  8. Maine
  9. Maryland
  10. Massachusetts
  11. Minnesota
  12. Missouri
  13. Montana
  14. Nebraska
  15. Nevada *
  16. New Hampshire
  17. New Jersey
  18. New York
  19. North Dakota
  20. Oregon
  21. Rhode Island
  22. South Dakota
  23. Texas
  24. Utah
  25. Vermont
  26. Virginia
  27. Washington
  28. Wisconsin
  29. Wyoming

Are Some Vehicles Exempt from Front License Plate Laws?

Yes, certain vehicles are exempt from front license plate laws in some of the above states. These exemptions vary from state-to-state and can include certain types of vehicles such as historic or classic cars, motorcycles, or commercial vehicles.

Some states also grant exemptions based on the design of the vehicle; if the manufacturer did not design a spot for a front plate, the vehicle might be exempt. However, these exemptions are not universal and depend entirely on individual state laws.

U.S. States that Do Not Require a Front License Plate

There are states within the United States where you shouldn’t be surprised if you notice the absence of a front plate on cars. In these states, the requirement is relaxed, and only displaying a rear license plate is sufficient.

While many states in the U.S. require both front and rear license plates, there are 21 states that do not mandate a front license plate. However, every state requires at least one license plate on motor vehicles.

The U.S. states which do not require front license plates on automobiles are:

  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. Delaware
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Indiana
  9. Kansas
  10. Kentucky
  11. Louisiana
  12. Michigan
  13. Mississippi
  14. New Mexico
  15. North Carolina
  16. Ohio
  17. Oklahoma
  18. Pennsylvania
  19. South Carolina
  20. Tennessee
  21. Wisconsin

In these states, vehicles are only required to display a rear license plate. It’s important to note that these regulations can change, and exceptions to these license plate rules may exist within each state. Always stay informed to ensure full compliance and avoid potential penalties.

Canadian Front & Rear License Plate Requirements

This brings us to Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario are the only Canadian jurisdictions that require both front and rear registration plates.

The following 9 provinces and territories only require rear plates:

  1. Quebec
  2. Alberta
  3. Saskatchewan
  4. Nova Scotia
  5. Newfoundland and Labrador
  6. Prince Edward Island
  7. Northwest Territories
  8. Yukon
  9. Nunavut

Why Do License Plate Laws Vary across North America, by State or by Province?

Different states have different requirements for license plates due to variance in the legislative process, historical practice, and administrative preferences. Each provincial and state has the autonomy to form its own motor vehicle regulations, including those related to license plates. For example each jurisdiction has different rules dealing with car insurance, civil limitation dates and whatever else they believe they are justified to act on.

Is there any one good reason why there is so much variability in having a front, back or both license plate requirement? Probably not:

  • Political Whim: Each state and province has the authority to create and enforce its own vehicle ownership laws. It could be something as simple as wanting to be different or a preference by a politician that he or she thinks a plate on the front looks better than a plate on the back.
  • Policing: Is it easier for police to enforce civil or criminal activity subject to the placement(s) of plates. Presently there are no statistics that any particular jurisdiction has higher or lower car thefts or recoveries because of the placement or lack of placement of a license plate.
  • Administrative Considerations: It is hard to imagine that there is a significant cost difference in administering, producing, distributing, front, back or both license plates.

Have fun and drive safe.


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