Does Montana Require Front License Plates?

Besides some exceptions, Montana is a “two-plate state” for most passenger vehicles. Find out why here.
Written by Rob Shapiro
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Montana requires most passenger vehicles to have front and rear license plates. It's one of many “two-plate states.” Only a few vehicles, like motorcycles and trailers, are exempt. 
License plates serve a purpose in society. They help identify registered vehicles and allow the authorities to locate missing people and stolen vehicles and enforce traffic laws. If you move to Montana from a state that requires only a rear plate, you will legally have to add a front plate. 
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Montana car insurance costs
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Does Montana require front license plates?

Yes, Montana requires drivers to have front license plates on most passenger vehicles. The exceptions are motorcycles, quadricycles, trailers, semi-trailers, pole trailers, and travel trailers.These only need rear license plates. 
More information (along with other license plate laws) can be found in Montana Statutes
Section 61-3-301
.
Under Montana law, most passenger vehicles must visibly display plates on the front and rear of the vehicle. The same law applies to personalized license plates and special plates like military or veteran plates.
Upon registering a vehicle, the rule is if you get two plates, display both and understand that one isn’t a spare. You should only be issued one plate if your vehicle doesn’t need a front plate. This one should be displayed on the rear of the vehicle.
If you have been living in Montana for 60 consecutive days, you are considered to be a resident, and registration laws will apply to you. It’s best not to wait!
Some more exemptions to note include the following: 
  • A junk vehicle being transported to a wrecking yard
  • Vehicles that are exclusively being used for film production
  • Vehicles that are not used for the transportation of people or property for compensation, profit, or hire 
  • A vehicle that is registered in and displays valid license plates of the jurisdiction where the nonresident owner lives
  • A vehicle being held for sale by the manufacturer, a dealer, a wholesaler, or for an auto auction

What is the penalty for driving without a front license plate in Montana?

The state of Montana stipulates that a conviction for a first offense of driving without a front plate can result in a fine of no less than $250 and no more than $500. A second offense is punishable with a fine of $350. Subsequent offenses can come with a fine of $500 and/or jail time of no more than 10 days. 
Getting pulled over for not having a front plate will most likely see you charged with an offense. That said, some officers might give you a chance to correct the issue but you will be issued a warning. In this scenario, you should go get a front plate the same day. 

Which US states do not require a front license plate?

Not every state is like Montana, some only require drivers to have a rear license plate. These 19 states do not legally mandate a front license plate:
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas 
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma 
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

Why Montana requires a front license plate

Not every resident loves having a front plate. Some feel it's unsightly but there are good reasons behind it. 
One important reason for a front license plate is that it helps the authorities identify stolen vehicles. You’ll be especially appreciative of front plates if your car is ever stolen as a front license plate doubles the odds of the police locating your vehicle. And considering that Montana’s auto theft rate has gone up 99% since 2011, this law is a necessity. 
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Which states have the highest rate of car theft?

We mentioned how Montana’s car theft rate has spiked since 2011, but it is still ranked in the bottom third among states for motor vehicle thefts. It trails Vermont and Wyoming but is nowhere near
Colorado
,
New Mexico
, and
California
Billings is among the top 10 cities with the most car thefts. Some years it ranks No. 1, which is probably not a source of pride for Montana officials. Bozeman is another city with a high car theft rate with 543 thefts per 100K residents.
High auto theft rates prove the need for a state to mandate a front license plate, but they also impact your car insurance rates! If you need further proof, just look at
Billings car insurance costs
and
Bozeman car insurance costs
.

How to find cheap car insurance in Montana

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