More than 35 states and provinces across the United States and Canada require two license plates on their motor vehicles. In other countries, two plates are the norm. The front plate is widely recognized by law enforcement as an important tool for immediate vehicle identification. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has issued a resolution for "…clearly visible, legible reflectorized front and back license plates…".
The initial reason for states moving to one plate is due to the steel shortage during WWII where many states went to one plate. Shortly thereafter, many of the states went back to two plates. The last two states to go from two plates to one was in the 1980s. Consequently, both of these states went back to two plates due to law enforcement effectiveness.
With tight budgets, states are looking for ways to cut costs – going from 2 plates to 1 being one of them. Another opposition to the front plate includes owners of luxury and sports vehicles that contend that the front plate takes away from the aesthetics of the vehicle.
According to Brian Ursino, Director of Law Enforcement for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), "The International Association of Chiefs of Police estimates that 70 percent of all crimes involve the use of a motor vehicle. Requiring a vehicle to have both a front and rear license plate doubles the opportunity for an officer or witness to capture license plate information. Moreover, with the increased usage of Automated License Plate Reader technology, front license plates are even more essential to maximizing traffic and public safety as well as our homeland security. The absence of a front license plate (as well as license plate design and environmental factors) also decreases losses to tolling authorities. In just one documented example, the E-470 Public Highway Authority in Colorado lost $3.7 million in 2011 due to these factors".
Until recently, government agencies had nothing but opinions to rely upon in favor of one plate or two. In August of 2012, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute completed a study titled "Front License Plate Market Research: Comparison of Single Versus Dual License Plates". In addition to opinions, the study has gathered quantitative data in order to prove or disprove the value of having a front plate. Given the advancement of license plate reading cameras, the study also uncovered applications in addition to law enforcement which give some insight into the results. Some of the findings include:
Without front license plates, a major toll road would lose several million dollars in toll revenue
United States Customs and Border Protection reports that the number of plates not read (excluded) on vehicle without two plates made a significant impact in their border processing
Field studies showed a 97% read rate (opportunities to identify the vehicle by the front plate) for parked vehicles in two plate states and 76% in one plate states.
Field studies showed a 89% read rate for moving vehicles in two plate states and 22% in one plate states.
As the study reports, the "the use of two plates maximizes the opportunity for identification to be completed efficiently and effectively whether by an individual or through ALPR (Automatic License Plate Readers) technology.