When a front license plate is not required

Street Smarts reader Lawrence Wilson, of Marysville, brought up an interesting question: “I have been seeing more and more cars and pickup trucks with no place to attach a front plate. This is on newer models, and most have no plate on the front.”

Now that he’s mentioned it, I’m seeing it a lot too. In one day, I spotted a Corvette and a Tesla — but also a Saturn and a Volkswagen — all skipping the front plate.

Wilson asks: “If you purchase a car with no front plate area, are you allowed to just skip having one?”

The short answer is “maybe.”

Typically, license plates must be displayed on both the front and rear of vehicles registered in Washington. (License renewal month and year tabs are required only on rear plates.)

“Basically if the construction of the vehicle doesn’t have a spot for the front license plate, the owner of the vehicle would need to contact the State Patrol to request an exemption,” said Jessie Knudsen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Licensing.

The letter of the law is that if you are issued two plates, you have to affix two plates. Car owners can seek an exception if the “body construction of the vehicle makes compliance … impossible.”

The key word is “impossible.”

“They should first look and contact a dealer, because that’s what we’re going to do,” said Sara Staab, public information officer for the state patrol’s Equipment and Standards Review Unit. “If the manufacturer says they do make a bracket for it, then the request will more than likely be denied.”

Requests for exemptions are fairly rare, about one or two a month, Staab said. So far, the state patrol has not tracked which vehicle models have been granted or denied exemptions.

Brackets are available for attaching license plates to the fronts of many vehicles, including no-drill designs. Dealers may have them, and auto supply stores also can order the kits.

“They can choose not to and just take the risk of not getting a ticket,” Staab said. “But we go by what the law says.”

If that means drilling holes in your Ferrari, then that means drilling holes. Aesthetics is not a valid argument.

Trooper Heather Axtman said troopers “often” pull drivers over for missing front license plates. If a ticket is issued, it’s a $136 fine.

Request for exemptions can be sent by email to equipment@wsp.wa.gov or by mail to Washington State Patrol, Equipment and Standards Review Unit, P.O. Box 42600, Olympia, Wash. 98054-2600.

Include the make, model, VIN and license number of the vehicle, the name and address of the requester, the reason they think they should be exempt from the law, and a photo of the relevant portion of the vehicle.

Collector vehicles are already exempt from the front license plate rule, according to the law. Other exempt vehicles include trailers, semitrailers, campers, mopeds, and motorcycles.

Other rules for license plates:

– They must be kept clean and legible

– Rear license plates must be illuminated by a white light (sorry, no neon)

– License plate covers, frames or other materials that make a plate illegible are not allowed

A Washington State Patrol Q-and-A notes that even non-tinted license plate covers can alter the reflectivity of a plate.

Have a question? Email us at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence. Look for updates on the Street Smarts blog.

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