On July 1, Ohioans will no longer be required to have front license plates on their cars. However, law enforcement and school officials across the state are hoping a proposed bill will reverse the law, saying front license plates make it easier to identify drivers who speed through school zones and violate other traffic rules.
Ohio House Republicans eliminated the requirement for a front license plate in an effort to pass the transportation budget last spring. But last July Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, introduced Senate Bill 179 in hopes of reinstating the law requiring front license plates. The bill is currently in committee.
Law enforcement have been testifying in support of S.B. 179, saying the front license plate is a useful tool to catch criminals, said State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, noting that she respects the wishes of law enforcement.
The requirement for the front license plate was eliminated because many Ohioans said the plate is not aesthetically pleasing, and auto dealers said it was more expensive to make spots on a front bumper for a plate to go.
“The main argument for getting rid of the front license plate is that people don’t like messing up the front of their car,” Lehner said. “In the overall picture of things, I would say that (messing up your car) is a minor issue.”
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he is not changing his mind about the front license plate requirement.
“The decision has already been made regarding the front license plate. It was decided in the transportation budget,” he said.
Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, agreed.
“It’s awfully hard to redo something after it was just done,” he said.
Antani said he thinks law enforcement makes a good case for keeping the front plate, but he also sees the concerns of auto dealers and the public.
“If we were to take a vote on the bill today, I don’t know how I would vote,” Antani said. “From a practical standpoint, public opinion would need to change.”
Some lawmakers, including Gov. Mike DeWine, are trying to save the front plate by enacting S.B. 179 to reverse the prior decision, with the safety of school pupils now being added to the mix of concerns.
Col. Richard Fambro, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, told lawmakers that school bus drivers, assisted by video cameras, almost exclusively use the front license plate to identify violators and report them to police.
The lack of a front plate on offenders’ vehicles will make it “virtually impossible” to track down the drivers who blow past stopped school buses, said Fambro, whose troopers charge more than 600 such drivers each year.
School officials say motorists failing to stop for buses halted to pick up or drop off children is an increasing problem.
An Ohio School Boards Association survey of bus drivers from nearly 200 school districts found more than 1,500 buses were passed illegally on one day alone last March. The Ohio School Boards Association said the statewide total of improper passes could be more than 4,500 daily.
In Senate committee testimony last month, police groups made their case that the front license plate makes it easier for police, using automatic plate readers, to detect wanted vehicles and capture criminals.
“By removing one plate, you remove 50 percent of law enforcement’s ability to apprehend criminals,” said Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio lobbyist Mike Weinman.
Antani said there are a good number of states that don’t require both front and back license plates, and there is not an elevated level of crime there because of it.
Thirty-one of the 50 states require front plates.
“A significant amount of the population in Ohio has a car,” Antani said, “so this affects a very large number of people.”
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