Understanding Texas License Plate Laws
There are a lot of excuses a cop can use to pull you over, but there are probably none more frustrating than a license plate infraction. The best way to prevent an unwanted pit-stop is to understand the license plate laws in Texas and make sure your vehicle has the correct equipment. Two license plates, front and back, well lit at night.
Do You Need a Front and Rear License Plate in Texas?
Yes, Texas is one of the 31 states that requires vehicles to have a front and rear license plate. Despite the fact that every state bordering Texas requires only one plate, Section 504.943 of the Transportation Code requires that a vehicle display two plates. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, every vehicle must have a front and rear license plate.
There was a lot of confusion in 2012 when the Texas legislature reorganized the Transportation Code because legislators unintentionally removed the penalty for vehicles that did not display two plates. The law required two license plates, but there was no penalty for vehicles that did not comply. Anyone pulled over for failure to display a front license plate while the statute lacked a penalty was able to challenge the ticket. This oversight was fixed in 2013, and Texas is now back to clearly being a two-plate state.
The penalty for failure to display two license plates is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200.
Does the Front Plate Have to Be on Your Bumper?
Before the Transport Code was changed in 2012, it designated specifically that the license plates should be placed at the front and rear of the vehicle. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Spence v. State defined “front” as “the foremost part of the vehicle, usually the bumper.” This meant that people who had their front license plate on display in their windshield were violating the law, and could be pulled over.
Although the legislature amended, and removed, “front” from the Transportation Code in 2012, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles added rules about license plate placement in June 2015. In the Transportation title of the Texas Administrative Code in Section 217.27 that states a vehicle “must display two license plates, one at the exterior front and one at the exterior rear of the vehicle that are securely fastened at the exterior front and rear of the vehicle in a horizontal position of not less than 12 inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom . . .”
So is it legal to display your license plate in your windshield in Texas? Between the ruling in Spence, and the rules issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, almost certainly not. If you would rather pay the $200 fine than drill into your bumper, remember that you are giving a police officer probable cause to pull you over any time they want. Any contact with police can lead to unwanted searches or detentions.
Is Your License Plate Light Bright Enough?
Most people never think about their license plate light until they get pulled over for it. Even if you have a functioning light bulb to illuminate your plate, it may still not be enough to save you a ticket, or from at least getting pulled over.
The Transportation Code states in section 547.322 that the rear license plate must be illuminated by a white light that “makes the plate clearly legible at a distance of 50 feet from the rear.” Even with a working light, if a police officer cannot see your license plate “clearly” from 50 feet away you are still in violation of the statute, and potentially at risk of being pulled over.