I get asked questions. A recent good one: Why do some cars have front license plates and others don’t?
I did not know the answer to that, so a little research was required. It turns out that Georgia has a law on that. Of course they do, they have a law for pretty much anything. OCGA 40-2-41: “Unless otherwise permitted under this chapter, every vehicle required to be registered under this chapter, which is in use upon the highways, shall at all times display the license plate issued to the owner for such vehicle, and the plate shall be fastened to the rear of the vehicle in a position so as not to swing and shall be at all times plainly visible.”
Georgia, it turns out, is one of 19 states that only has a tag on the rear of the vehicle, while the other 31 states and Washington DC require a tag on both the front and back. Curiously, the Legislature gave the Commissioner of Revenue the ability to require a tag on the front of “certain vehicles. “The commissioner is authorized to adopt rules and regulations so as to permit the display of a license plate on the front of certain vehicles.” (OCGA 40-2-41)
So what is the argument for a tag on the front and back? First, it eases identification of the vehicle in an emergency, like say, identifying a car used in a bank robbery. Two tags means more opportunities to view the tag, no? How many times are citizens able to identify tags and give them to law enforcement? Rarely. It almost never happens.
Second reason, traffic cameras love front tags. It’s easier to identify a front facing tag for some reason. If nothing else, you go back to the two opportunities angle.
Why doesn’t Georgia have front and back tags? Got me. The Legislature seldom explains why they do what they do. I would submit that there is an argument for the Commissioner having the authority to mandate that vehicles have a front license tag if he wanted to do so. The sticking point is the Legislature said “permit” front tags, not “require” front tags, so there’d be a good legal argument if the Commissioner buckled in to the cities and counties wanting to enhance revenue by having more traffic cameras and license plate readers. More tags means more opportunities for revenue. Ahhh, they’d never do that, would they?
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see.