Does Michigan Require Front License Plates?

Michigan requires front license plates for most passenger vehicles—and it’s especially important in cities with lots of car thefts. Learn more here!
Written by Pat Roache
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
background
Michigan
is one of 20 states that do not require registered vehicles to display two plates. According to the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS), cars registered in the state only need to display a single
Michigan license plate
on the rear of the vehicle.
Many states require registered vehicles to display both a front and rear license plate to make identifying vehicles easier—but not the Pleasant Peninsula State! Michigan law enforcement officers rely on only one license plate to identify stolen vehicles and track down traffic violations, but there are still certain requirements that Michigan drivers must follow.

Does Michigan require front license plates?

No—front license plates are not required for vehicles registered in Michigan.
Michigan license plate laws put the state in a minority of twenty states that do not require front and rear license plates. Instead,
Section 257.225
of the state vehicle code only requires registered vehicles to display a single rear license plate. 
When you register your vehicle at the Michigan SOS, you’ll be issued a single license plate as laid out by
Section 257.224
. The plate must be attached to the rear of the vehicle—although there are a few exceptions—but always in a way so that the registration information is clearly legible and the bottom of the plate is at least 12 inches above the ground.
The Michigan license plate requirements are the same for standard and speciality license plates.

Exceptions

There are a few types of vehicles that are not required to display their license plate on the rear. 
Truck tractors and road tractors are required to display their license plate on the front of the vehicle. Historic military vehicles aren’t required to display a license plate at all if the vehicle wasn’t originally built with mounting equipment, but the driver must be ready to provide the license plate to law enforcement at all times.
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What is the penalty for driving without a license plate in Michigan?

Driving without a license plate or with a license plate that’s not properly displayed is a civil infraction in the state of Michigan. The penalty for driving without a properly displayed license plate is punishable by a fine as determined by local law enforcement. 
Driving a vehicle with an invalid registration plate—one not assigned to the vehicle—is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time of up to 90 days and fines of up to $100 for passenger vehicles or up to $500 for commercial vehicles.
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Which US states do not require a front license plate?

Michigan isn’t the only state that only requires a rear license plate! Here are the states that don’t require a front license plate on registered vehicles:
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas 
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma 
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia
If you ever find yourself driving through one of the remaining thirty states that do require front and rear license plates, don’t worry! You are only required to meet the requirements for the state in which your vehicle is registered.

Why doesn’t Michigan require a front license plate

Michigan stopped requiring two license plates in 1981, changing the law to require only a single rear license plate on most vehicles. While the exact reason why is unclear, the choice likely saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in license plate production costs!
States that do require front and rear license plates typically do so to help law enforcement track down law breakers and identify stolen vehicles. With only one license plate to work off of, you may think that Michigan police are at a disadvantage in this department—especially considering the rate of car theft in Michigan.
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Which states have the highest rate of car theft?

Michigan had the twelfth-most car thefts in 2020 according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Service with 18,385 reported thefts that year. 
However, if you look at car theft rate, Michigan ranked as the 32nd-worst state for car theft in 2019 with a rate of 177.7 car thefts per 100,000 residents. This pales in comparison to states with the highest rates of car theft, like
New Mexico
’s rate of 427.2 or
Colorado
’s rate of 384 in the same year.
Detroit and
Flint
have some of the worst reputations for crime in both the state and the entire country. In 2019, Detroit’s car theft rate was 1037.82 thefts per 100,000 residents. The rate for Flint was only 217.41 per 100,000. 
Here are the auto theft rates for some of Michigan’s other major cities:
As you can see, Detroit sticks out like a sore thumb. High auto theft rates can have a great impact on the local cost of insurance, so it’s no wonder that
Detroit insurance costs
tend to be much higher than in nearby Ann Arbor!
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