Ask A Trooper

Sgt. Jesse Grabow

Question: Why are so many vehicles allowed to be on Minnesota roads with only a rear license plate? This seems to be especially true of late model expensive makes (Tesla, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, etc.). Isn’t the lack of a front plate a primary offense and the vehicle therefor subject to a traffic stop? I see more and more of this every day and it seems like an entitled group of drivers feel they are above the law.

Answer: Minnesota law requires two license plates on a vehicle. There are some vehicles that are allowed to display only one license plate: motorcycles; a dealer’s vehicle or vehicle in-transit; a collector’s vehicle with a pioneer, classic car, collector, or street rod license; a vehicle that is of model year 1972 or earlier (not registered as a collector vehicle), and is used for general transportation purpose.

License plates cannot not be displayed in the front windshield or the rear window, they must be displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle. All plates must be securely fastened so as to prevent them from swinging, displayed horizontally with the identifying numbers and letters facing outward from the vehicle, and mounted in the upright position. The person driving the motor vehicle shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust, or other blurring material (dirt, mud, snow, etc.) so that the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any assigned letters and numbers or the name of the state of origin of a license plate with any material whatever, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate’s visibility or reflectivity. This also includes obstructing license plate brackets that block the state of issuance, and tabs.

License plates issued to vehicles must display the month of expiration in the lower left corner of each plate and the year of expiration in the lower right corner of each plate. 

Why do we have two license plates? From a law enforcement perspective it is safer to have two plates. Witnesses and victims have helped solve crimes and saved lives because they were able to get information from the front license plate. Some examples and situations have included:

• If an officer needs to run vehicle information they can get the plate information from the front or rear of the vehicle.

• It makes a suspect vehicle easier to identify if it is encountered from the front or the rear.

• If a suspect vehicle is backed into a parking spot it is more easily identified.

• Identifying a suspect in a crime (from surveillance images) is easier with front and back plates.

• A robbery or burglary

• Kidnapping or sexual assault

• Homicide

• A gas drive off