Ohio HB 133 passed the House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee on June 25, 2013. If it gains approval by the entire Ohio legislature, it will amend the Ohio code to require just one license plate on motor vehicles beginning January 1, 2017.1
Arguments in support of the bill, though, are superficial and do not adequately answer the objections of bill opponents.
ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF A “ONE-PLATE STATE”
Proponents of the one-plate law note the savings to the state’s budget (but not to the individual automobile owner) and some advantages to cosmetics and convenience.
1. Economics is the largest tangible reason for eliminating one license plate. Rep. Terry Johnson, a Scioto County Republican who is supporting the bill, claims that “the state could save more than $1 million per year because of the change.”2 Estimated savings as listed in the proposed bill’s fiscal notes is $1,425,450.1
2. Aesthetics is probably the most popular reason for citizens in favor. Also, it would save car owners the effort of putting on two plates when acquiring a vehicle. According to SEMA Action Network, “H.B. 133 would protect the design contours of collector cars and relieve vehicle owners of the burden of having to create mounting holes on some fabricated and original bumpers.”3 (Or, as one enthusiast recently posted in a forum on the subject, “One plate state will be awesome. Think about it people with sports cars, looks stupid with a front plate it just doesn’t look cool at all.” [sic])4
3. States surrounding Ohio have all gone to one license plate. Proponents of the one-plate legislation seem to think the merits of this observation self-evident. But is it? On the other side of the argument, only nineteen states have dropped the two-plate requirement. Neither of these statements proves the wisdom of either position. Actually, it was noted in one article that in one-plate counties bordering Ohio, officers were helped by Ohio’s two-plate law because it can expedite narrowing where a car is from.2
There’s the case: state (not citizen) savings, cosmetics, and similarity to other Midwestern states. How do these reasons stack up to those of bill opponents?
ARGUMENTS AGAINST A “ONE-PLATE STATE”
1. Motor vehicle safety is the overriding argument for Ohio to continue being a “two-plate” state. Lt. Anne Ralston, public affairs commander for the Ohio Highway Patrol, said an officer’s efforts in addressing a crime in progress can be helped by having two plates on vehicles. She said,
“It allows us to identify a vehicle fleeing from the scene. We become very trained to look at those details … being able to read a license plate as they travel past. It raises the question: Why does this vehicle have only one plate? Did they steal the other one? That can assist in the recovery of stolen vehicles.’”5
Parkersburg Police Sgt. Greg Collins was quoted in the same vein: “Civilians have an easier time giving officers the plate number when it’s on the front and back.”5
Thus, the added assistance of two license plates applies to both police and fellow citizens. Moreover, there are three potential angles when attempting to identify a suspicious car: when following the vehicle, when the vehicle is approaching, and when one is being followed (perhaps the most unnerving of the three). Vehicles with only one plate eliminate two key identifying opportunities.
2. For economics, two plates are actually better than one. Toll and parking lot fees are more effectively collected when vehicles have two plates.
Regarding the collection of tolls, a study performed by the state of Virginia last year found that “toll collectors and Commissioners of the Revenue were in favor of maintaining this practice, because the second plate increases their effectiveness as well. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) also supports the use of two license plates.”6
A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute surveyed the U.S. and found that
“In Virginia, 23 percent of toll violations could not be pursued because the rear plates were unreadable… For states with more than 100 miles of toll roads, one-plate states account for 55 percent of the total tollway miles. As fiscal pressures mount, efficiency in the collection of tolls and the pursuit of violators become critical. Front plates increase the likelihood of collecting that revenue.”7
Regarding the collection of parking lot fees, the same study found that “Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport reports that 10,000 parking transactions per year (an average of $30 per transaction) rely on ALPR [Automatic License Plate Recognition] plate reads to determine accurate charging. Fifteen percent of those transactions had to be processed manually because of sun glare on the rear plates.”7
In short, the savings of dropping a second plate would likely be diminished by the increasing cost of violations-related fees owed but not collected.
3. Two plates better serve personal safety and justice. Mike Weinman, of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police in Columbus, testified at a hearing that scanning the front plate of a vehicle can help identify stolen cars and vehicles involved in hit-and-runs and felons. “I would argue the cost of front license plates doesn’t outweigh police being able to capture a murder suspect or any other violent criminal for that matter,” Weinman said.8
It makes serious sense for Ohio to remain a two-plate state. The state of Virginia conferred with many agencies regarding license plate issues last year and arrived at the same conclusion for itself, even though they stood to save more in material costs than we would here in Ohio. We would do well to recognize the wisdom in a key part of their summary:
“Of the recommendations, the most important are that Virginia retain its requirement of two license plates on vehicles…. The law enforcement community’s strong endorsement and rationale for maintaining two plates were instrumental to the team’s decision. Having two plates increases their enforcement ability by providing a second opportunity to identify a vehicle, especially when the vehicle is carrying equipment, a plate frame, or any other device that obstructs the rear plate…. Additionally, toll collectors and Commissioners of the Revenue were in favor of maintaining this practice, because the second plate increases their effectiveness as well. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) also supports the use of two license plates.”6
Ohio must not be fooled into preferring a minor, personal convenience at the expense of significant public safety. Keep Ohio a “two-plate state.”
Oscar A. (Tony) Rubio is a writer who merges the lessons of history with current events to suggest a better path. He resides in Cincinnati, Ohio and believes that our national mood would be improved if we listened to more Big Band and Jazz as we look forward to the White House changing occupants on January 20, 2017. Tony blogs at www.cartaremi.wordpress.com and www.sportuoso.wordpress.com.
Michael Hamilton contributed to this article.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.
Also by Tony Rubio: “Did the Hispanic Vote Support the Wrong Party in 2012?”
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2 – “Ohio May Go to One License Plate,” by Mike Hughes, www.timesleaderonline.com, 7/10/2013
3 – www.semasan.com 5/7/2013
4 – Brandon Helton, commenting on www.legiscan.com
5 – article by Phil Foreman, “1 Ohio license plate, or 2?,” www.mariettatimes.com, 7/8/2013
6 – License plate study by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, report issued 11/9/2012
7 — study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, published 11/30/2102, www.tti.tamu.edu
8 — “State lawmakers want to change dual license plate law for drivers,” article by Stan Donaldson,www.cleveland.com , 5/16/2013