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Posted: 7:11 a.m. Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Does Ohio need a front license plate?

By Sandy Collins

COLUMBUS —There's a joke in Indiana about Ohioans needing a front license plate.... something about how their criminals drive in the right direction when fleeing a scene or something like that.  I don't remember the punchline, but the pun struck a nerve.

Ohio is the only state in our area that still requires a front license plate.  If one state lawmaker has his way, Ohio vehicles won't need that front plate anymore.

The bill from Republican state Representative Rex Damschroder of Fremont would eliminate the front license plate requirement.

Damschroder notes having just one plate works in the states surrounding the Buckeye state. 

“It works in all five states around us. Is there any reason we couldn’t make it work in Ohio too? The public wants (to get rid of the front plate requirement). It’s law enforcement who is against it,” he said.

Ohio’s 13 million registered vehicles display both front and back license plates.  

Eliminating the front plate comes up regularly in the General Assembly. The Legislative Service Commission estimates that eliminating the front plate would save the state up to $1.65 million a year in production and distribution costs.

Damschroder said car enthusiasts don’t like the look of the front plate and complain that new sports cars often lack a front plate bracket.

Ohio has required a front plate since 1908, except for 1944-46 when Ohio wanted to conserve steel for the war effort, according to Bureau of Motor Vehicle officials.

Michigan stopped requiring a front plate in 1980.

“I worked the road for almost 16 years and cannot think of one occasion where I thought we needed a front bumper license plate. I can only speak for myself,” said Sgt. Michael Church, a spokesman for the Michigan State Police.

But ask Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl or FOP Ohio government affairs director Mike Weinman and they’ll come up with a long list of reasons where a front plate is helpful.

-school bus drivers use it to note cars that illegally pass buses loading and unloading students;
-surveillance cameras catch the front plate in convenience store robberies, gas drive-offs and other crimes;
-the reflective plate catches the eye of drivers to see cars that have gone off the road;
-the front plate provides a second look for cops or witnesses trying to identify getaway cars, drunken drivers, hit-and-skip vehicles or others.

Also, the highway patrol and police departments in Dayton, Springfield, Hamilton, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and other cities use automatic plate reading cameras mounted to cruisers. As the police car drives down a road, the cameras scan the back plates of parked cars and the front plates of oncoming traffic and relay the license tags to a database. The computer matches the scanned tags to stolen cars, outstanding warrants, be-on-the-look-out alerts and other information and then relays it back to the officer on patrol.

“Clearly with the technology that we’re bringing on board ... having the license plates front and rear certainly is a benefit for law enforcement and public safety,” Biehl said. He said he wants to double the number of rapid plate readers to 10 in the city.

“I know some folks think it’s just a front plate but it’s an investigatory tool for law enforcement and it’s in current law. It does lead to other things,” said Ralston, noting that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was stopped by a state trooper for not having a front plate.

Dayton Daily News staff writers Laura A. Bischoff and 
Joanne Huist Smith contributed this story.

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