Ridin’ Dirty: Does your car need one license plate or two in Texas?

by | Oct 13, 2022 | Regulatory Risk Analysis and Compliance

If you’re rollin’ with only one Texas license plate, you could get hit with a $200 fine. Most vehicles in Texas, with the exception of road tractors, motorcycles, trailers and semitrailers, are required to have both a front license plate and a rear license plate—even if the vehicle doesn’t have a holder for the front license plate. Your fancy Tesla, Audi, or Cadillac might look better without a front license plate, but it’s not exempt from state law requiring one.

Texas law requires that most vehicles display two license plates, one at the exterior front and one at the exterior back. Road tractors, motorcycles, trailers and semitrailers are required to have the rear license plate only.[1] Driving without properly-placed license plates is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $200.[2]

Nineteen states, including every state that borders Texas, has done away with the front license plate requirement. Teslas and many other cars don’t even come with a holder for a front license plate.

Texas State Representative Metcalf proposed a bill in 2021 to require the rear license plate only (HB 1199), but it failed.

The bill faced opposition from law enforcement, including the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPL). A representative from TMPL testified before the Texas House Committee on Transportation that two license plates are “needed for law enforcement,” because “officers observe far more vehicles approaching from the front [than] passing them on the roadway.” He also said that the two-license-plate requirement is about the officer’s safety: “If an officer is called to a scene where the vehicle matching the description is observed, but there is no front license plate and that vehicle is backed in, the officer now has to get out of their vehicle on foot to approach that vehicle and look at the rear license plate, potentially opening themselves up to danger and attack.” HB 1199 died in committee.

Similar bills were introduced in 2019 (HB 2149 and SB 805) and 2017 (HB 276), but all died in committee without receiving a hearing.

Doing away with the front license plate requirement would save the State of Texas millions of dollars each year. In 2021, the Legislative Budget Board projected that the reduction in the number of plates produced would result in savings of $5.3 million to the TxDMV beginning in fiscal year 2022, with the amount of annual savings increasing at a rate of 1.5% each year thereafter.

Can I put my license plate in the front window?

If a vehicle is required to have two license plates, the front license plate must be secured on the exterior of the vehicle. Specifically, the TxDMV’s rules require the front license plate to be placed on the exterior of the vehicle “in an upright horizontal position of not less than 12 inches from the ground, measuring from the bottom.”[3]

Where do I put a temporary tag?

Temporary tags, which may also be called temp tags, paper tags, or paper license plates, are issued to vehicle buyers as temporary registration until the dealer completes the title and registration process.

According to the TxDMV, temporary tags must be placed in the rear license plate area of the vehicle and should be secured with double sided tape or with a license plate holder to keep the tag from flapping up in the wind.

Can I use a digital license plate?

For your personal vehicle, no. State law allows the TxDMV to offer digital license plates to government and commercial fleet vehicles only.[4] Digital plates are either battery-powered or wired directly into the vehicle’s electrical system. They have a monochromatic HD display that displays your license plate if your registration is up to date or an “invalid” sign if out of date.

The TxDMV contracted with Reviver to issue these digital plate licenses in Texas, and they became available to order by eligible government and commercial fleet vehicles on June 1, 2022.

The digital license plate must be placed on the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle must still display a physical license plate on the front, unless it’s the type of vehicle that is required to have just one license plate (i.e., a road tractor, motorcycle, trailer, or semitrailer[5]).[6]

[1] 43 Tex. Admin. Code § 217.27.

[2] Tex. Transp. Code § 504.943.

[3] 43 Tex. Admin. Code § 217.27.

[4] Tex. Transp. Code § 504.154.

[5] 43 Tex. Admin. Code § 217.27.

[6] Tex. Transp. Code § 504.154; Tex. Admin. Code § 217.60.

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