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Multiple states look to amend license plate laws for historic vehicles

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About a month into the new legislative session for many states, at least six have introduced bills that would provide for greater freedom for displaying license plates on older vehicles.

Of the six, five would allow single license plates while the other would provide for historical plates:

  • New York’s Senate Bill 832, introduced January 5, would introduce an exemption to the state’s two-plate standard only for historical vehicles registered as such that weren’t “manufactured with a number plate display area on the front of the vehicle.” New York state considers any vehicle 25 years or older eligible for historical registration. The bill has since been sent to the state senate’s transportation committee.
  • Montana’s House Bill 213, introduced January 10, would likewise exempt any vehicle “originally manufactured without a bracket, device, or other means to display and secure a front license plate” from displaying a front license plate. As worded, the bill does not require the vehicle to also register as historic; Montana state law already exempts motorcycles and street rods from displaying a front license plate. The bill has since been sent to the state’s house transportation committee.
  • Vermont’s House Bill 16, introduced January 10, would allow any pleasure car to display just a rear license plate. Vermont state law considers a “pleasure car” essentially any non-commercial passenger vehicle. The bill has since been sent to the state’s house transportation committee.
  • Missouri’s Senate Bill 131, introduced January 4, would not only eliminate the requirement for front and rear license plates among passenger vehicles, it would also require the return of any front license plates to the state. The bill has since been sent to the state senate’s transportation, infrastructure and public safety committee.
  • Rhode Island’s House Bill 5068, introduced January 11, would require the state’s division of motor vehicles to approve year-of-manufacture license plates for any vehicle more than 25 years old. While the bill allows the state to reject license plates in anything other than original condition as well as those not sufficiently distinctive from current plates, it does allow for replica plates along with state-issued plates. In addition, the bill would allow the display of only one year-of-manufacture license plate if a full set isn’t available. The bill has since been sent to the state’s house finance committee.
  • Illinois’s Senate Bill 53, introduced January 11, would allow a single rear license plate for secondary vehicles, a new category that includes vehicles driven less than 5,000 miles per year. The bill has since been assigned to the state senate’s transportation committee.

At least 19 states* only require display of a rear license plate while at least two others (Wyoming and Nevada) exempt front plate display if the vehicle was not originally equipped with means to display a front license plate. (Massachusetts allows single-plate display if the vehicle was registered before the state introduced a two-plate system in 1986.)

As the Specialty Equipment Market Association argues, not requiring a front license plate “protect(s) the aesthetic contours of certain historic vehicles and relieve(s) vehicle owners of the burden and expense of having to create mounting holes on some original bumpers.”

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* Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.